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Horniman Revisits Romania

A dazzling new free exhibition of Romanian clothing, textiles and craft opens here at the Horniman in October, including exhibits donated to the collection more than half a century ago.

Revisiting Romania: Dress and Identity explores how Romanian folk art has been used to express identity and nationhood in Romania in the 19th and 20th centuries, including their use as a political tool during the Ceausescu years. Many of the objects were donated in 1957 following an exhibition at the Horniman, which was organised from behind the Iron Curtain. 

The exhibition highlights the elaborately decorated textiles, costumes and artefacts used in Romanian peasant homes to showcase women's skill and industry, to display a family's social connections and to express national pride. It reflects the fascination and enchantment felt by visitors on seeing the textiles of Romania, explores the way in which the upper classes adopted peasant clothing, and looks at how the meaning attached to textiles – particularly costume – was manipulated under the Ceausescu regime to promote national unity.

Highlights of the exhibition – which is supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute and the Ratiu Family Charitable Foundation – include:

  • an outfit given to Lady Monson, lady-in-waiting to Princess Marie on her wedding day
  • a dance costume from Transylvania, part of Romania from 1919 onwards
  • a child’s embroidered jacket donated to the Horniman by Baroness Asta Ladenburg
  • a fine example of an Oltenian carpet – much sought after by foreign visitors

Fiona Kerlogue, Deputy Keeper of Anthropology and curator of the exhibition, says: "The Horniman is fortunate to hold such a rich collection of Romanian objects. Revisiting Romania: Dress and Identity not only showcases an array of artistry and craft, it reveals how Romanian peasant art has been used to express social and political ideas within the village and on the national and international stage."

A second free exhibition will open alongside Revisiting Romania: Dress and Identity. Portraits from London features 34 eye-catching images of contemporary Romanians living and working in the capital, by London-based Romanian photographer Ion Paciu. Commissioned by the Romanian Cultural Institute, the portraits include people from a variety of backgrounds including a pianist, a priest, a businessman, a builder, a student and a singer-songwriter.

Fiona Kerlogue says: "This fascinating exhibition tells the stories of contemporary Romanians in London, revealing their relationship with their homeland and culture. The exhibition provides a 21st-century counterpoint to the Horniman's Romanian collections on display – and it's interesting to see how many of the photographs include visual elements echoing the textiles, designs and motifs featured in Revisiting Romania: Dress and Identity."

The Horniman and the Romanian Cultural Institute are celebrating the launch of both exhibitions with a vibrant weekend of Romanian art, music, film and food. The programme will include concerts by Ovidiu Lipan Ţăndărică and brass band Fanfara 10 Prăjini, jazz singer Irina Sârbu, a literary event with poets Ioana Ieronim and Fiona Sampson, ethnographic film screenings, demonstrations by Romanian craftsmen, storytelling, food stalls and more.

  • Revisiting Romania: Dress and Identity will open from 4 October 2014 to 6 September 2015
  • Portraits from London by Ion Paciu opens from 4 October 2014 to 8 March 2015
  • The Revisiting Romania Launch Weekend is on Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 October, 1pm - 5.30pm. All are free to visit.