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Meeting with Mara Ratiu, Vice Rector of Art And Design University of Cluj-Napoca

After our morning meeting, we headed to the fine arts and design college in the square of Aurel Vlaicu. Where we met Mara Ratiu who is the Vice Rector of Art and Design University of Cluj-Napoca.


The first day we arrived, we spent time in this square, and we did not realize it was the entrance of the university of fine arts. When we looked at this rather old building from the outside, it seemed quite plain except for the giant embroidered wooden door, so we thought that it might be a small church at first glance. Then, we looked at the writing on the plate and saw that it was one of the buildings of the fine arts university. One of the most loved features of Cluj is that it’s a very humble community, although the arts are quite good, the buildings are quite simple and far from overdone. Also, it is very important that art students are in the center of the city. In this respect, as the university is located in the heart of the city, it is a very good point for the artists in the city.

When we got inside the building, we saw huge classical sculptures that were the copies of original works made by the students during the 60’s. When we passed through a large glazed door, we realized that this seemingly small building is actually quite large. There is a beautiful garden behind it. We could hardly discover it due to darkness, but some of the sculptures on display in the garden were striking.

We went out of the classroom and through another mysterious door this time with Mara, this room was actually more like a cave. She tells us that this is where they hold their exhibitions and that the main entrance of the building was here centuries ago. This is strange because right now this floor is a couple meters below ground level but she explains us that the city rose by at least 2 meters with new constructions and projects over the course of the years. After some time, we leave there and go up to the top level of the building. The second floors stairs, the chairs and even the stained glass are very old yet in pretty good condition. We go to the conference hall, which does not quite fit into the nostalgic atmosphere of the building, the conference chairs are as organized as possible. We have a nice and productive meeting with Mara Ratiu here.

Looking at the historical turning points of Romania, artists have always been critical. Especially in the communist period, artists were needed because art was used as a propaganda tool of the regime. In 1951, following the Soviet model, the communist regime created a union of artists and centralized art activities in the country.

Yet by 1975, everything was getting worse and due to relative freedom, foreign influences started to appear. The Bauhaus movement was very influential in Timişoara for instance. The communist regime during Ceausesku was very interested in artists and art movements from the west.

Ceausesku was usually ordering artist to make his paintings and this was seen as a big honor and many great artists of that era therefore made his paintings, or they were instructed to paint farmers and workers who worked in the field, reflecting the priorities of the communist regime. Great names, talented artists became part of this group because they were coerced due to financial risks and working permits. For example, Florin, who once made a Ceauşescu 's painting, began to work on this portrait for the exhibition at the request of the dean of the school. He accepted this with a sense of responsibility towards himself and the state. The portrait was hung between the two flags at the entrance and everyone spoke of the portrait. According to Mara, this is an art and for some it is some kind of propaganda, it does not seem fair to see the artists as tools of the crime because the technical mastery, the quality of the work were the decisive factors, and it should not be much of importance to the artist whose image is made.

When we were talking about how the communist era was, she gave us a personal story. Mara’s family told her when she was 12 years old that she should not talk to her friends about things that are spoken at home, and she still cannot forget that times as they were difficult for her. The desire to learn Western cultures seems to her as a freedom during those times. She now first feels herself as a Clujian, then European, then Romanian. It does not take long for people to understand that it is an illusion of communism, but they continue to obey it. The humanitarianism of the communist era holds the function and utility front, but the difficulty of the conditions leads them to rise up in some way. Because there was no heating in the apartments, the people could barely get the quarter of their products with the report card. According to Mara, oranges and bananas were only sold on New Year’s occasions. Therefore, whenever she smells oranges, it reminds her of the Christmas even today.

Thus, there was a cultural breakdown in the economic sense after the revolution because of the change of the system. Everyone was poor in Romania, because the system changed, tourism stopped, economy collapsed, production ceased. When the 2000's came, it began to stabilize, especially in 2007, with the participation of the Romania into the EU, a serious economic recovery took place. They started to be supported in terms of education and art. Also, Cluj can gets an international student population every year with mobility. Every year many students and teachers go abroad, with Erasmus Plus. The fine arts faculty is in partnership with 78 art schools all over Europe, and 1500 student go abroad annually. There are 1,000 students in the school, and 60% and 70% of them go abroad each year for a few months. They can do this 3-4 times during their education. In this respect, Art and Design University of Cluj-Napoca is very important in this mobility.

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