The Mangalia Mural So Controversial Its Creator Had to Flee

One of the largest and most elaborate murals from Communist Europe consists of three million porcelain pieces and makes a huge impression. In fact, it had such an impact upon its unveiling that its creator was forced to flee Romania.

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Mosaic on Mangalian House of Culture
Photo: Nikolaus Wilhelm-Stempin / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

The port city of Mangalia is one of the best-known Romanian beach resorts. But its architectural splendor lies not only in hotels. Close to the sea in the city center lies the House of Culture, designed by architects Jules Perahim and Mac Constantinescu between 1959 and 1962. Its façade is not the ordinary neo-classical row of columns that you’d expect from a representative socialist-era building. Instead, Constantinescu, the principal architect, set the stage for his comrade Perahim to design an intricate and exquisite mural – one that would soon force him to flee Romania.

Awe-inspiring mural on House of Culture in Mangalia

The mural is awe-inspiring. At one hundred meters long, it spans across the whole front of the building. The image is formed by some 3.15 mln porcelain pieces, each two by two centimeters.
While today it’s mostly the scale and artistic qualities that draw attention to the mural, the main topic of discussion upon its unveiling was its ideology. Or, more precisely, the lack of thereof.

Titled Geneze (Genesis), it sends a strong signal of humanist values. A woman and a man in its center are parents, with a woman bearing a naked infant in her arms, stretched towards the sun. All the elements are represented, as well as the panorama of a modern city. Sailboats and buildings hidden in the green represent human achievements through reason and science.

Not socialist enough for the socialist times

However, what happened following the debut of the House of Culture and its eye-catching mural was nothing short of a witch hunt. It could have been that some authorities associated the woman and child with Christian symbols. Or maybe it was just what they stated: too heavy on modernism, too light on socialism in this socialist-modernist work of art. Whatever the actual reasons, dogmatic leaders found the designers guilty of not being true to the spirit of socialism. The proof was evident in the lack of the hammer and sickle or images of workers and farmers. Even the missing red banner was a case in point.

In addition to the symbolic investigation, there was also a real investigation with real repercussions. Jules Perahim ultimately assumed responsibility for his alleged mistake. With the state being the most important client of socialist artists, he suffered consequences that forced him to leave Romania for Israel.

Luckily, the mural was left intact and still adorns one of the central spots in Mangalia, now more a representation of the triumph of humankind instead of the triumph of socialism.

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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