In Eastern Europe, deeply lodged remnants of dictatorship, communism, and lifetimes of constant surveillance by secret police (including, possibly, spying by friends, neighbors and even family members) have left generations unable to communicate directly with each other.

Kincso Bede, a 25-year-old Romanian photographer (who lives and works in Budapest, Hungary), appropriates the same tools of the former Securitate secret police — cameras with black-and-white film and bright flash lighting — to try to come to grips with her parent’s and their generation’s apparent inability to embrace 21st century freedom.

Three Colours I Know in This World (2019-2021) (1) © Kincső Bede

She and her cousins, dressed in their parent’s clothing, pose in some deliberately absurd and fraught situations, to try to understand what it must have been like living under the constant fear of Nicolae Ceaușescu — always trying to hide, lay low, and survive, while barely expressing any strong emotions like love, joy, delight or surprise. Even what they displayed in the privacy of their own homes — art on the walls, or books on their bookshelves — could become evidence to use against them, so a profound sense of self-censorship and distrust hung like a pall over ordinary daily life, and continues to define everyday interactions even in the freedom of the present time.

Three Colours I Know in This World (2019-2021) (15) © Kincső Bede

Bede writes about this work:

Three Colours I Know in This World quotes the first line of the Romanian communist anthem. A line translated into the language of photography can help to analyse and understand my artistic and personal motivation too. I didn’t choose the subject, I just tried to clarify what I am looking for behind the picture and because of that, I started to use a method. I started to play with my pictures: so I let them direct me and conduct me. This is a personal story considering the fact that communism created an enormous chasm between the generation of my parents, and that of mine. They lived through communism and they experienced the change of regime as well, but we didn’t. Therefore they know something we don’t. So here is this history I only heard of and wasn’t part of. Here are all the traumas inherited from my parents – and they all come together as visions in my head and sensations I feel in my body. My personal motivation is to move closer to my parents. Ceaușescu’s voice, fears, desires, secrets and paranoia stepped into the private lives under the evil eyes of the Securitate. My parents’ best-kept secret was their belief, their language, their soul. This is me.”

Three Colours I Know in This World (2019-2021) (8) © Kincső Bede

Endre Cserna, a visual artist and art critic, wrote:

“The pictures are photo rituals – therapeutic, healing ceremonies and necromancies. They seek the ecstatic experience, they try to recall something from the abandoned traditions, they aim to dramatize the past, but also, they intend to break taboos, which have ossified over the previous decades. … In these cases, we find ourselves in the need of new ceremonies.”

(Cserna’s text translated by Eszter Novák.)