Former Prime Minister image censored by Romanian Cultural Institute (Brussels)
In February 2014, the Bucharest based artist Alexandra Croitoru was invited to present a selection of works from her 2004 portrait series “Powerplay” in an exhibition on gender relations, part of the Summer of Photography at De Markten, Brussels. Sam Gilbert, the coordinator of the event, explained to the artist that the festival always relies on foreign cultural centers for financial support, so they were planning to collaborate with the Romanian Cultural Institute (thereafter RCI) in Brussels, as they had in previous years. In one of his initial emails, Gilbert expressed some concerns stating that “as we understand the portrait with the former prime minister [of Romania, Adrian Năstase]* might be a bit controversial” and suggested that they would continue to discuss the selection of Croitoru’s works.** The image in question is part of a series of self-portraits with men of power in Romania, including the MC’s of a popular hip-hop band, TV stars and the former prime minister, all looking away from the camera. Curator Mihnea Mircan wrote in a text in 2004 that the double portraits “produce an active object of power and an activity that is not confrontation but a transversal effort of contamination, showing also a strangely monumental quality.”
After the correspondence with Gilbert, Croitoru emailed Cătălin Hrişcă, the coordinator for visual arts and film at the RCI in Brussels, with whom she was already in contact, asking him weather he was the one who suggested to Gilbert that including her portrait with the prime minister Năstase in the exhibition would be problematic in the context of the collaboration with the RCI. Hrişcă replied that there must have been some misunderstanding: he would have never dared make such a suggestion, and moreover he stated that he was the one who suggested Croitoru to the festival organizers. Hrişcă did admit that he had asked Gilbert weather he knew who the man in the portrait was, and concluded that this may be why the latter had jumped to conclusions. Finally Hrişcă stated that the RCI Brussels respects the artists and their works, and never intervenes or influences the artistic process. “Of this I can assure you.” he ended the email.
Later that month, Gilbert and Croitoru made a selection of four works to be shown in Brussels. Gilbert informed the artist that, for the financial aspects of production, namely production, transportation, insurance and the artist fee, she should discuss directly with Hrişcă. Croitoru wrote to the latter herself, informing him that a final selection of works has been made and she would like to know more details about the contract with the RCI. Hrişcă replied that he was in contact with the organizers of Summer of Photography and they informed him that she will be exhibiting the four photographs. He also told her that the project would be analyzed by the directorial committee of the RCI in Bucharest but only on March 15th, 2014. The funds would come from the general RCI fund, after an internal competition between projects proposed by different RCI representatives. He also stated that he was working on an internal memo to emphasize the importance of the project. Hrişcă assured Croitoru that they will do everything in their power to finance the project and that he didn’t foresee any problems why they shouldn’t, but that he has to follow the RCI’s internal protocols.
However, problems did arise. In a recent email Hrişcă sent to Croitoru, he stated that he regrets the fact that a consensus about the collaboration wasn’t reached yet, probably for “technical reasons” – it was true that some of their emails didn’t reach her. Referring to the exhibition “Gender Relations” during the Summer of Photography festival, he confessed to her that if the RCI were to support the exhibition of a photograph showing the politician Adrian Năstase, given the current electoral season, this may be “interpreted in a wrong way, as a political message”; thus, it would be against RCI internal protocols and would have a negative impact upon their institutional activities. He suggested her to replace the photograph featuring the former prime minister with another one from the series.
In a previous email, Nora de Kempeneer, coordinator of the De Markten, the institution where the exhibition will take place, emailed Croitoru stating that “it was with astonishment that the institution learned there was a misunderstanding” between Croitoru and RCI and that they appreciate “the efforts of Mr. Cătălin [Hrişcă] to present artists from Romania in Belgium,” but also the institution she represents respects “the opinion and freedom of the excellent artist Alexandra Croitoru who defends a case.” She suggested the RCI and the artist should solve the problem whether or not the portrait with the former prime minister should be presented in the exhibition. She also stated that the topic of the exhibition was gender and the role artists play in defending the position of women in contemporary society and that it was difficult for De Markten to estimate the political message behind Croitoru’s image since they were not familiar with local Romanian politics. De Kempeneer ended stating that the institution she represents prefers to stay impartial and let the artist and the RCI resolve the conflict.
After these emails, Croitoru wrote to de Kempeneer and Hrişcă that she decided not to participate in the exhibition given the above-mentioned facts. She also asked them not use any materials she had sent in previous emails and informed Sam Gilbert that she is withdrawing from the exhibition and, as they had b88een discussion the possibility of using the title of her series “Powerplay”as the title of the exhibition, this would not be possible anymore.
Alexandra Croitoru, From the Powerplay series:
* Adrian Năstase is a Romanian politician who was the Prime Minister of Romania from December 2000 to December 2004. He was the President of the Chamber of Deputies from December 2004 until March 2006, when he resigned due to corruption charges. In January 2012, the courts gave Năstase a two-year prison sentence for misuse of a publicly funded conference to raise cash for his unsuccessful campaign in 2004. In January 2014, the Romanian Supreme Court sentenced him to a four-year prison sentence for taking bribes and a three-year prison sentence for blackmail, to run concurrently.
** All quotes thereafter are from the email conversations between Croitoru, Gilbert, Hrişcă and de Kempeneer unless otherwise noted.