Lucretia Olteanu, “On the exhibition ‘Images from the Romanian Gulag’”, (Remembrance in time, Transilvania University Press of Brasov 2012), pp. 115-125.
The exhibition - Images from the Romanian Gulag
Communism, having claimed to be a new civilization, superior to the Capitalist one, which it passionately denied, forced hundreds of millions of people to live within a closed, repressive and humiliating universe. On theoretical level, of the proclaimed purposes, Communism pretended to embody “absolute humanism”, a society whereof class distinctions disappeared and wherein people could live in complete freedom”. We, the ones having lived within this society, understood however that the new social system, communism, was a utopian concept.
In Romania, the communist regime was a totalitarian system, based on an ideology hostile to open society, on the constant violation of the human rights through repression, intimidation and corruption and on the power monopoly exercised by a small group of individuals. The establishment of the communist totalitarianism was achieved through a frenzied anti-democratic campaign, marked by terror and repression, wherein the democratic values were eliminated from the society’s life and the opponents of the new “popular” regime had to endure the ordeal of the prisons, forced deportations and communist labour camps.
The exhibition “Images from the Romanian Gulag” of the plastic artist Radu Bercea, reminds us the inferno of the communist prisons and camps. The artist’s experience – former political prisoner – has materialized in a series of remarkable works through their authenticity. The exhibition brings together a representative series of works with images displaying the ordeal of the opponents to the repressive regime. Arrest, identity loss, investigation, torture, political prisoners, the intellectual-communism’s number 1 enemy, punishment in detention, search, evening call, labour camp, “Ecce homo” victims, perpetrator figures, these are a few benchmarks of the nightmare experienced by “those whose youth was stolen”. Octav Bjoza, president of the Former Political Prisoners in Romania, in his turn former political prisoner, posits that the exhibition reminds the viewer of today, the harsh and inhuman world of the communist prisons and labour camps. We quote: “Among the visitors of various social categories and age, the most impressed are the former political prisoners, as they directly knew the terrible world so masterly evoked by Radu Bercea.
In the torturers’ dehumanized figures, visceral-hatred contorted features, they recognize real people among their former oppressors. They will likewise recognize the degrading tortures, unimaginable for the civilized world, applied to the anti-communist political prisoners.
In the communist prisons and labour camps, an extermination regime was consistently applied. The prisoners were malnourished, beaten, obliged to work beyond their powers, and deprived of elementary healthcare. These sad realities, which would forever disqualify the communist regime in Romania, very clearly transpire from Radu Bercea’s inspired works. The political prisoners he presents with infinite compassion and human solidarity are thin toothless men with indescribable suffering on their emaciated faces.
The portraits of some intellectuals especially persecuted by their perpetrating rookies are particularly suggestive. The artist’s palette of themes is wide-encompassing. He displays the tortures and suffering of those devoid of liberty, he unfailingly catches the human-faced beasts’ figures, chosen by the authorities to repress the political prisoners; however he manages to present the mysterious dignity of death. Likewise, the author of successful caricatures also chooses aspects where the humour is sad and evokes painful realities whereof mention should be made of former perpetrators who have turned, through the course of things in Romania, prosperous businessmen”. The motto of the author Radu Bercea “Forgive, however not forget the past” proves the fullness of his far too noble soul, his wisdom, kindness and humanity, reminding us Jules Michelet’s statement: “May hatreds numb! Memories must however remain, so that so many misfortunes, suffering should never be lost to human experience” ( Jules Michelet, History of French Revolution.)
Radu Bercea – Destiny of a great plastic artist of Romania
Born on the 29th of August 1939, in Cuciuru Mare, Cernăuti, Bucovina, Rdu Bercea graduated the School of Plastic and Decorative Arts “Octav Băncilă” from Iasi. In 1959, when he was only 19 years old, remarked and remarkable for his freedom of openly expressing the truth and his pro-Western beliefs, then, as evidence for his adhesion to subversive ideas and organizations, he was arrested and politically condemned to 20 years of forced labour and to 10 years of civil degrading for his “crime of conspiracy” against social order. He was granted amnesty through the decree of 1964, imposed by the international organisms of the “Human Rights” and UN. During detention, 1959 – 1964, he experienced the prisons and forced-labour colonies of the communist regime.
After liberation, Radu Bercea, strong personality of rare sensitiveness, utterly and tirelessly dedicates himself to plastic arts, succeeding in accomplishing himself through art. Very mobile and creative, practicing unique various interesting genres and techniques, he achieves a variegated oeuvre with generous message. The talent and value of his creations consecrate him alongside the outstanding plastic artists of his time.
Ever since 1964, he has participated in group or personal exhibitions (more than 200!) in Romania and abroad. He has displayed graphic and painting works in numerous towns of Romania: Gura Humorului, Suceava, Iasi, Bucharest, Târgu Mures, Reghin, ConstanŃa, Mamaia, Costinesti, Pitesti, Petrosani, Făgăras etc. He has obtained numerous prizes in the national and international caricature saloons. Since 1986, he has benefited from numerous international participations: Japan, Italy, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Poland, Belgium, France, Brasilia, Mexico, Israel, Bulgaria etc.
He has displayed his works in France, at the Cultural Centre from Port Marly, at Visinet Theatre from Paris, at the Economic House from Mafra, Brasilia, at the House of Culture from Rio Negro, at the Museum “Casa do Bucovina” from Rio Negro, Brasilia, at the Public Library Parana from Curitiba, Brasilia. He has personal works in private collections from Romania, USA, France, Italy, Austria, Brasilia and Israel. He has published caricatures in various local and central newspapers and magazines. He has illustrated volumes of poems and colouring books for children. He graphically rememorizes, in a series of exhibitions, the Romanian Gulag and he publishes the graphic volumes “Retina Memory of the Romanian Gulag”, “Testimonies from Inferno” and “Images from the Romanian Gulag”. The images from the Romanian Gulag constitute a testimony for the experiences of hundreds of thousands of Romanians during Communism, with troubling sequences from the prisons and labour camps. As regards the painful memory of the prison, master Radu Bercea testimonies that we must keep the memory of the past; however not let us overwhelmed “so as not to happen again”. Part of his works was donated to the Association of the Former Political Prisoners from
Romania – Brasov and to the Memorial Museum from Sighet.
Bibliography: 1. Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania: Final Report, p.1, Bucharest-2006.
2. Octav Bjoza, Evocări ale suferinŃei (Evocations of Suffering), in: Album, Radu Bercea, “Imagini din gulagul românesc” (Images from the Romanian Gulag), pag.5, 6 “Pastel” Publishing House,Brasov, 2010.
3. Tiberiu Cosovan: Album “Memoria gulagului românesc” (Memory of the Romanian Gulag).
4. Iuliana Popescu: ”Flori de spumă” (Foam Flowers).
Note: In the frame of Openness project, an itinerant exhibition was organized, with the works of plastic artist Radu Bercea, showing the images from the Romanian Gulag. Cruel realities of life in the hell of communist prisons have sparked a great interest among visitors from Velico Târnovo - Bulgaria, Oldemburg - Germany, Hodmezovasarhely – Hungary, and Făgăras – Romania. In the next pages there are shown 14 representative paintings of the great plastic artist Radu Bercea.