Last year the Romanian Embassy invited me to exhibit my woodwork at their HQ for the International Day of the Romanian Blouse, celebrated on the 24th of June.  The space was limited to a small table which was a challenge for me, because I had no clue how to squeeze cultural identity in 1 m, without making it look and feel stereotypical and idealized to the audience.

But then again why should we avoid stereotypes? When people emigrate stereotypes follow them like shadows.  Nostalgia for things that are lost also creates stereotypes in the shape of selective memories, a sight that is no longer seen or a taste that is no longer felt (because tomatoes don’t taste the same allover) becomes subjective, idyllic and sometimes sacred . So I decided to address my own selective memories and idealized images through this art installation hoping that it would entice the audience to take a look at their own shadows.

This is the concept:

Boxes are very handy when we move. I didn’t take too many with me when I left Romania for Switzerland. How can you fit a life, a country, a culture in a box? You take the essential, of course, but what becomes essential when you reduce everything to the size of a box?

 For me the essence of things lies in the stories they carry, it is stories that make us human. The ability to tell stories, to create objects with meaning, symbols and feelings attached to them is a human power. So, together with my grandmother’s embroideries, my mother’s old recipe notebook, some old family photos, I made room for Panait Istrati’s novels, which I read as a child. At that time I was infatuated with his writing (I still am) because not only did he describe my hometown, places so familiar and dear to me, but it seemed to me that his characters were coming straight out of my family, that he was talking about us.

In my head Musa could have very well been my great great grandfather, a Greek born in Fener, captain of a commercial ship, explorer of the Mediterranean, “vagabond of the world”. Many times I imagined drinking “Şerbet” with him on the narrow streets of Constantinople and telling stories of faraway places. I, myself, wanted to become a vagabond of the world.

The shadow box is an old sailors’ custom derived from a superstition with roots in naval history. When a seaman was leaving his ship, if his shadow touched land before he stepped ashore, it was considered an omen that terrible luck would follow. The shadow box was a box in which crewmen would place objects meant to represent the sailor’s shadow. So usually a small wooden box containing personal effects – a metaphor for the sailor’s shadow, which he’d leave behind.

Shadows are unique like fingerprints and they are always with us, although we are seldom aware of them. Travelling for extensive period of time or living as an expatriate sometimes makes people homesick, just like sailors spending too much time at sea, but for me this meant the chance to become a “vagabond of the world” while becoming more aware of my Romanian shadows, both good and bad.
Women in my family

My great grandfather (down right) on his steamboat

My great grandparents at Bran Castle (a.k.a Dracula’s Castle)
My paternal grandmother as a child probably at the onset of WWII
My mother, in a remote village in Transylvania, in the 80s

A stereotypical village against real people

Axis Mundi – The church was always at the center of a village. The gate separates order (the village and its people) from chaos (outside of the village) and was carved with protective symbols. Order and chaos are basic principles in the cosmogony of Indo-European peoples. This world is also populated with mythological beings who sometimes intersect with village life, such as the dragon a symbol of evil (the primordial chaos).
Peasants in typical folk costumes from (left to right): Wallahia (Bucharest area), Bukovina, Wallahia (Ramnicu Sarat), Bukovina, Transylvania (Sibiu)

All these objects are handmade, cut in wood, the details are wood-burnt and hand painted. Photos are from my family’s collection.


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