The special exhibition Bears and Other Masks portraying Romanian New Year’s Eve traditions was inaugurated at the Romanian Cultural Institute last Thursday.
If you choose to travel to Romania these days, you might not only spot people singing Christmas Carols around Christmas trees or curious eyes exploring the treasures hidden under the tree. You may also catch sight of men wearing bear coats stomping their feet to the beat of drums and pipes followed by a procession of costumed children. You might also observe women wearing masks and coloured costumes, clattering their wooden jaws to the rhythm of pipes. After all, these are some of Romanians astonishing New Year’s Eve traditions, all nearly 2000 years old and still celebrated in Romania today.
When Romanian photographer Dragos Lumpan became aware of the value of these ancient traditions, he initiated in-depth research in the small village of Vintileasca that would last 5 years. The result can now be admired at the Romanian Cultural Institute: vivid, colourful pictures displaying the symbolic masks in the context of contemporary urban lifestyle. The author has succeeded in capturing these moments of celebration in a natural and authentic way. “I see my role as an observer. But I also wanted to draw attention to these ancient traditions. We want to keep them alive – they shouldn’t be locked away in museums”, explained Dragos at the exhibition.
The bears and goats represent gods of ancient religions. “It is a very old, pre-Christian ritual”, continued Dragos. “The ugly masks are worn to chase away evil spirits.” This is why the ritual is accompanied by a lot of noise. The performance is done to make the New Year start well. “But nowadays, we don’t see it as a spiritual ceremony, it is a cultural celebration. There is a very pleasant atmosphere: people dance and spend time together”, he says.
The masks involved in the ritual are all expertly hand-built with feathers, metal and coats, giving the custom a very original touch. It is real traditional art!
The exhibition is open until 15 January 2010 and admission is free. For more information please visit http://www.icr-london.co.uk/.
By Julia Sahm