Irina Nicolau


Irina Nicolau, ethnologist and writer (sic), co-organizer, together with Horia Bernea, of the Romanian Peasant Museum, coordinator of 6 volumes of oral memory, author of 8 books on alternative ethnology, creator of object books, clothes and jewellery, lover of Kitsch objects, friends and play.


One day, it must have been in nineteeneightysomething, I received a letter from Irina. She had managed to get away to Athens to visit her aunt. I must mention that she had first received an official and negative reply from the Passport Office and had had to ask for an audience with the police, in the hope of changing their decision. She prepared herself at length, pulled her hair back with a white cord, gathered it into a bun on the back of her head, dressed in a blue blouse with a white collar and a straight skirt, wore no make-up, took her famous rings off her fingers and made sure she looked stupid and shabby. I don’t remember what she said to the officer or what he was, but she finally managed to get her passport. And lo and behold, coming back to what I’ve said, she had sent me a letter! An elegant envelope, smelling of Western glue, which I respectfully opened with my letter opener, to find inside a piece of toilet paper on which was written in brown ink EXACTLY AS I FEEL HERE. RIRI


Much later, in 2000, together with a younger friend, we made an album about the icons of Sibiel. Thanks to Irina’s model, the result was a truly beautiful object. Only, because it had been badly bound, it was enough to leaf through the volume for it to unravel into multicoloured tabs. Whenever she gave away a copy, Irina wrote on the title page PLEASE READ CLOSED. RIRI


What do we learn from these two events? Well, firstly, that Irina Nicolau felt RIRI; secondly, that she had a gift for essential writing, with simple, short and very comprehensive words; thirdly, that she liked to work together with friends. And, in general, that she knew how to turn inconveniences, or mistakes, into hilarious and memorable accidents.


Unfortunately, her books often came out in tiny print runs, so they were mostly read by friends (Irina would give away whatever she got in royalties and then buy so she could give more away) and then read by those who borrowed them from friends of friends. Generous friendship, floating around her like a vapour, led to a phenomenon that only manifested itself after Irina left us: in her footsteps a sui generis community of very different people was built, who still feel close to each other today only by virtue of the feelings she sowed in each of them; some had only just discovered her, others had known her for a long time and drifted apart for who knows what reason; some, very young, trained professionally under her wing, others adopted her (or were adopted?) as a close relative. (Ioana Popescu)