Mihai Coman is a Romanian-born photographer living in New York. His current work explores the recent explosion of color in Romanian architecture.
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. At the same time, the lack of moderation in hues could hint at a immature exploration of a newly-available aesthetic, reminiscent of a pre-adolescent learning to apply makeup. Then again, it may be as simple as an honest celebration of color and self-expression.
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 own.