A digital archive is recovering half a century of communist Romania’s eclectic visual culture

A digital archive is recovering half a century of communist Romania’s eclectic visual culture

18 November 2019
Images: Courtesy of Camera Arhiva

Romanian culture zine Kajet Journal has launched a digital archive of the country’s communist-era print culture, marking 30 years since the December 1989 Revolution that toppled the country’s socialist regime.

The research project makes hundreds of scans from books, booklets, DIY manuals, newspapers, and periodicals, produced between 1947 and 1989, available to the general public.

Organised into four categories — culture, recreational, political, and technical — the collection includes propaganda and science books, as well as the more subversive satire magazine Urzica (or Nettle in English) and the arts journal Secolul 20 (The 20th Century), designed by the famous artist Geta Brătescu.

"> The cover of the magazine Secolul 20, titled "The village of Brancusi", 1967
The cover of the magazine Secolul 20, titled "The village of Brancusi", 1967
The cover of the magazine Secolul 20, depicting Ion Bițan's “Cadences”, 1969

In a country where official archives only tell the stories of high-up party members or dissidents, the archive’s creative team take a revisionist perspective on communist Romania. All had little personal contact with Romania’s socialist era, with the team’s oldest member only just starting primary school when communism collapsed.

“By focusing on the [...] material culture of regular Romanian citizens, we are seeking to break the [story told by the] mundane apparatus of officialdom represented by governmental and privatised archives,” Camera Arhiva write.

“The selection is a subjective one — we don’t seek to portray history or truth in an objective way, as we see the archive as a permanent work in progress,” Camera Arhiva told The Calvert Journal. “We welcome other individuals and institutions to join us in creating an in-depth archive of Romanian visual material. We all share a passion toward recent history, printed matter, and finding new ways of coming to terms with our past.”

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