by Paula Erizanu

Over the past two decades, visual arts in the Republic of Moldova have developed in traditional environments such as painting, sculpture or cinematography; nonetheless, they have expanded also into the area of contemporary conceptual arts. 

In contemporary conceptual art, a handful of artists stood out, each of them with a distinctive touch. 

Crossing the territory of the Republic of Moldova in a wheelcart…making polenta into an artistic material and moulding medals out of it, using yoke, helmet and clown nose („don’t you land on your nose!”) wearing a suit sewn from  Moldovan market pokes (prior to the collections of the Celine fashion house), making a replica of the Arc de Triomphe, a symbol of Chișinău from emblematic bags…Talking about the drying up of rivers before it had become of interest to the press.  Creating animations and an archive of interviews with victims of Stalinist deportations… Recreating the Kama Sutra with the use of pliers… one of the most unique contemporary artists in the Republic of Moldova — and in the world: Ghenadie Popescu (b. 1971).

landscape under restoration, 2019, mixed media, Ghenadie Popescu

With an invaluable authenticity and a rare poetic mind, Ghenadie Popescu is a total artist, working in performance, sculpture, video and animation and deserving much more recognition, both locally and internationally. His work has been presented in exhibitions in Romania, Republic of Moldova, Poland, Holland, Hungary, Germany, Spain.

Pavel Brăila (b. 1971) receives rather international than local recognition; his works have been presented at Documenta, Manifesta, as well as in galleries and in exhibitions in Germany, Romania, Austria, France, USA, etc. Among his most ingenious works is the The First Moldovan Passport (2010), in which he applied the EU stars around the coat of arms of the Republic of Moldova on the Moldovan passport– blue at the time,  meanwhile, the color has changed to red. We should also mention his documentaries on the daily life in Chișinău, the folk dance ensemble JOC, the grandiose houses of the Roma on the Baron’s Hill in Soroca, as well as the series of paintings Visele tatălui/ Father’s Dreams (2008). In 2019, Brăila’s CITIUS ALTIUS FORTIUS, an intervention with orange fumigants, became a protest against the U.S. Embassy taking over the Republican Stadium. 

Forerunner Marc Verlan (1963-2020), also known as „Marioca Fiul Ploii/ Marioca Son of the Rain” belongs to the same generation as do Popescu and Brăila. One of Verlan’s most memorable performances was a funeral that the artist organized for a one-legged Barbie doll he had found in the street in 1995. Gathering a procession of artists, an orchestra, but also a confused audience, Verlan carried his usual green flag, with a black cat swayed in a boat, and organized a memorial feast, sponsored by the Soros Foundation (and interrupted by the rain). Even before the fall of the USSR in 1989, Verlan also created a series of bold, playful portraits depicting Lenin alongside Buratino, the Russian equivalent of Pinocchio.  

Part of the young generation of contemporary artists, Valeria Barbas becomes one of the most active voices in the field of the art as a carrier of a social message. One of her most recent and powerful initiatives, InterZction, was a protest in the underground passage at the intersection of Kîiv Street and Moscow Boulevard in Chișinău, featuring  LED screens with landscapes from the two capitals now at war. Barbas’ intervention featured sounds of sirens and bombings in Kîiv resounding in the passage, while the artist posed as a target under the casts of weapons used in the current combat. The artist is not at her first artistic protest. In one of his most creative initiatives, Claximphonie (2013-4), Barbas directed the ansemble of car horns, as a message against the congestion and pollution of the capital. 

Vladimir US, known not only as an artist, but also as a cultural organizer, through his NGO, Oberliht, is also mainly preoccupied to create interventions in the public space. One of the most memorable actions of US is the initiative of bd. Ștefan cel Mare (2011). He placed little boards at the intersection with Pushkin Street, featuring the list of historic names, since the 19th century,  of the now Ștefan cel Mare Boulevard.

Ștefan Rusu, one of the founders of KSAK (Center for Contemporary Art in Chișinău, funded by the Soros Foundation) is yet another artist with organizational spirit. One of Rusu’s most visible works is  Apartamentul Deschis (The Open Apartment), a replica of the kiosks, balconies and annexes built in Chișinău (and, moreover, in the entire post-Soviet urban space) in the 90’s, as extensions of the apartments in the socialist blocks of flats. Meanwhile, The Open Apartment has also become a space for occasional events, discussions, parties or outdoor movie screenings, projects of Vladimir US’s organization, Oberliht.

Another memorable intervention, La Datorie/ On Duty, signed by artist Ștefan Eşanu, who recreated the real volume of a billion dollars, from white papers that replaced banknotes of 100 dollars each, as a reference to the political scandal of the one billion dollars stolen, in 2014,  through schemes involving companies in the UK, Malta and Hong Kong and Latvian bank accounts, leading three moldovan banks into bankruptcy. Otherwise, Eșanu is dedicated to the practice of painting, especially making  neo-expressionist portraits.

In addition to these artists, a new generation of contemporary painters and sculptors is also emerging. The exhibition Soare in Moldova/ Sunshine in Moldova,  curated by Alexandra Mihalaș at the Constantin Brâncuși Exhibition Center in Chișinău in February 2022, brought to the fore an extraordinary diversity of new names, many activating outside the borders of the Republic of Moldova, in the diaspora: sculptor Mihail Botnari, reinventing the classical tradition through  suprising detail, painter Valeria Glibiciuc, who mixes illustrative practice with surreal and expressionist elements, Tania Arsher or Daniel Cauia, with their neosymbilistic paintings, neo-expresionists Mihaela Dreglea, Daria Lupan or Valentin Pascari, linocut artists Cristina Buga and Dmitri Șibaev, surrealist Victor Covaliuc, Ana Costov, with his abstract, vital pieces. Besides them, Valeria Duca creates  hyperrealistic portraits, whereas Victor Ciobanu, in his representative watercolor series surprises the architectural decay of recent times Chișinău. Vasiluța Vasilache and Cezara Kolesnik are active in the area of decorative painting.

Moldovan cinema doesn’t lack talent either, but funding. As a result, it is defined rather by short than feature films. Igor Cobîleanski, Viorica Meșină, Sergiu Prodan, Leontina Vatamanu  are experienced filmmakers. Of the new generation, one of the recent resounding successes belongs to Olga Lucovnica, who was awarded in 2021 the Golden Bear for Short Film for her documentary short about sexual abuse, Nanu Tudor. Lucovnica’s, but also several generations’ of young artists mentor is Vlad Druc; his film course at the Academy of Arts of Moldova; the undergraduate films produced during the course can be found on their Youtube channel. In addition to Lucovnica, it is worth noting director Ion Borș, whose black comedy about the Transnistrean war, Carbon, won the WIP Europe Award of the San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2021, and qualified, in 2022, in the official New Directors competition of the same festival. Other promising names are Lucian Spătaru, author of the A Small Country With a Big Heart (2022), documentary about Moldova’s response to the war in Ukraine and openness to refugees, Lucia Lupu and Călin Laur, who restore the role of the world of the Moldovan village in cinema, Diana Vlas, who made the short film on migration Homesickness (2020), Dana Miron, author of the documentary Vive la Femme (2022),  which addresses the role of women in the USSR. Due to the poor funding in cinematography, directorial talent often take refuge in the advertising industry– this could be the case of Viorel Mardare, whose video clip about the fruits of Moldova, produced during the Sergiu Prodan Workshop, went viral. From the same generation as Mardare is Eugen Damaschin, author of the film Beautiful Corruption (2018).