The travels to distant places, on trade routes and great geographical discoveries have brought to Europe more or less truthful evidence of the populations encountered in various parts of the world. They illustrated human diversity, often disconcerting and strange. The observed differences individualized a generic Other which over time became the main object of study of anthropology. In its desire to formulate a definition as comprehensive as possible on human nature, anthropology, through its countless schools and currents has created multiple interpretations extracted from field research, a regard towards differences or constants. Otherness is thus constructed by reference to a civilized identity. Marc Augé summarizes in his work “Pour une anthropologie des mondes contemporains” (1994):
“Anthropology becomes possible and necessary starting from a triple experience: the experience of plurality, otherness and identity. The difficulty that the history of anthropology presents for anthropologists themselves when asked about this experience stems from an original confusion between plurality and otherness: the others, whom the observers went to meet, were elsewhere, in the diversity of a vast world they had to discover. The other was by definition a distant one, more precisely one of those distant ones as diverse as the cultures, morals, or customs by which they could be defined as others.”
From an observer of diversity, the anthropologist became with time, as Vintilă Mihăilescu said, a “thinker of the human” and anthropology, an “open work”, through which the strange became intelligible. The ability to put yourself in the other’s point of view and embrace his entire worldview has defined the anthropological view.
This perspective is not only reserved for the anthropologist but also for the artist’s sensitivity.
The “practice of wonder”, by means of coexistence in the community he studies and portrays, becomes part of the artistic creed of Paul Gaugain, an artist who decisively influenced the international art movement at the end of the century, bringing it back to the realm of imagination. His paintings inspired by light, the locals and the legend of the Polynesian islands express a primordial lifestyle, far from the superficiality of modern life. The shapes are simple, voluptuous, and full of color and through them, the essence of the human, in all its complexity, transpires. “Like all great artists, he had the ability to communicate universally valid ideas and feelings in a unique way. His paintings and sculptures attract immediately but are also surprisingly complex. They are psychological dramas, revealing the melancholy and trauma that disturbs his subjects, that disturbs us all.”
We also find the landmarks of Paul Gaugain’s symbolism in the artworks of Cecilia Cuțescu-Stork. On display at the Museum of Ages we find two representations of femininity and otherness, built and imposed: “Dynamic” and “Static”. The figures of gypsies in pastels refer to the Other close to us and the condition of women in Romanian society at the beginning of the 20th century. In the artist’s diary we find: “The models that pervaded over the years through our workshops, almost all gypsies, had expressive figures, dynamic or strange […]. I appreciated them not only for their artistic qualities. I surprised them sometimes thoughtful. They confessed to me their troubles. “
Cecilia Cuțescu-Storck understood from childhood that: “Another desire burned in me: that of understanding and being able to reproduce the aspects of humanity through shadows, lights, shades and contours”. Her formative path, from the Damenakademie in Munich to the Académie Julien in Paris, will determine her to experiment with various approaches, always focused on a deepening of nature and the study of the works of great artists. The work “Indian Head”, for which she won first prize in a competition at the academy, expresses the taste of the era for idealized images of exotic cultures.
Although recognized especially for her monumental paintings and for the fact that in 1916 she became the first woman in Europe to hold a professor position in the art department at the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest, Cecilia Cuțescu-Storck, through her work and activity, brought an important contribution to the women’s emancipation movement in Romania, at the beginning of the 20th century. In this sense, she contributes to the formation of the “Association for the civil and political emancipation of Romanian women” and, together with the artists Olga Greceanu and Nina Arbore, lays the foundations of the “Association of Women Painters and Sculptors”, thus promoting Romanian women’s art in salons organized by the association. She denounces “the hostility with which the woman was treated by society and her laws.” “I was with the woman because I was socially wronged (…) I wanted to express, to reflect this position, in incisive lines and in sober colors.”
Text & photo: Alexandra Rusu
Marc Augé, Pour une anthropologie des mondes contemporains, Flammarion, Paris, 1994.
Cecilia Cuțescu-Storck, Fresca unei vieți, Editura Vremea, București, 2006.
Will Gompertz, O istorie a artei moderne, Polirom, București, 2014.
Vintilă Mihăilescu, Antropologie. Cinci introduceri, Polirom, București, 2009.