Romania’s past is often compared to present day North Korea as it involves an
extended period of economic and cultural isolation at the hand of a dictatorial
regime. For decades, western media and goods were largely outlawed, and a secret
police enforced a series of cultural and ideological regulations prescribing
everything from proper men’s hair styles to acceptable poetry. Much of the nation’s
prior cultural heritage was suppressed, intellectual and artistic figures censored,
and cultural institutions eradicated. Emphasizing uniformity, these standards
frowned upon ostentatious color and decor in architecture, leaving cities and towns
today with a legacy of grey concrete apartment blocks, businesses, and homes.
In 1989, the fall of Communism brought with it a new freedom and an insurgence of
Western habits and values, often sudden and dramatic. From direct imports like
McDonald’s to mashups of traditional Gypsy music and hip hop, the country is
dealing with external pressures of globalization while trying to make sense of its
recent history and searching its past for a unique identity.
This series of photographs chronicles the progression of this cultural transition into
the architectural medium. In the last few years, many urban and rural building
facades have broken out into hot pinks, greens, and other exaggerated colors -
seemingly overnight. The change could be interpreted as a search for identity, as the
colors are somewhat reminiscent of architecture in nearby Germany, a culturally
influential region. But the lack of moderation and subtlety suggests a scramble to
match (and surpass) the perceived modernity of one’s neighbors – in a local sense
and national sense.
While dramatic changes like this are nothing new, the slow-changing and relatively
permanent nature of architecture makes this development a reflection of a
meaningful cultural transition. These facades serve as a testament of a people that
have at last won their freedom of expression and are now faced with the difficult
task of finding something to say that is both modern and relevant, but also their
About the Artist
Mihai Coman is a Romanian-born photographer and engineer currently residing in
New York City.