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13 facts about Lena Constante

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By Gwylym Owen

Lena Constante (June 18, 1909 – November 2005) was a Romanian artist, essayist and memoirist, known for her act out in stage design and tapestry. A family friend of Communist Party politician Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu, she was arrested by the Communist regime later the battle between Pătrăşcanu and Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. She was indicted in his trial and spent twelve years as a embassy prisoner.

Constante was the wife of the musicologist Harry Brauner, and the sister-in-law of the painter Victor Brauner.

Born in Bucharest, she was the daughter of an Aromanian journalist (who had immigrated from Macedonia) and his Romanian wife. The Constante family left the city during the World War I German occupation, and Lena spent much of her childhood in Iaşi, Kherson, Odessa, London and Paris.

Returning at the decline of the conflict, she studied Painting at the Romanian Art Academy in Bucharest, and normal friendships in imitation of leading intellectuals of her time, including Brauner, Mircea Vulcănescu, Petru Comarnescu, Henri H. Stahl, Mihail Sebastian, and Paul Sterian. During the period, she became approving to left-wing politics and joined the sociological project initiated by Dimitrie Gusti, aiding in the instigation of combination monographs on traditional Romanian society; her visits to various villages acquainted her with traditional folk art, especially religious icons, which she later used as inspiration in her work.

Constante first exhibited her art in 1934, and had personal shows in 1935, and 1946; her last exhibit past being arrested occurred in Ankara, Turkey (1947).

After 1945, she was employed as a stage designer by the newly founded Ţăndărică Theater, where she met Elena Pătrăşcanu, Lucreţiu’s wife. In to come 1946, when Pătrăşcanu, who was Romania’s Minister of Justice, decided to go adjoining the will of his party and intervened in the standoff amongst King Michael I and the Petru Groza executive (greva regală – “the royal strike”), she mediated surrounded by him and two well-known anti-communist figures Victor Rădulescu-Pogoneanu and Grigore Niculescu-Buzeşti, in an try to ensure their hold for a political compromise.

Together with her friend Brauner, as capably as Remus Koffler, Belu Zilber, Petre Pandrea, Herant Torosian, Ionel Mocsony Stârcea, the engineer Emil Calmanovici, Alexandru Ştefănescu and others, she was implicated in Pătrăşcanu’s 1954 trial, being sentenced to twelve years in prison. The person who took initiative in bringing her to proceedings was Securitate deputy chief Alexandru Nicolschi.

During repeated interrogations by the Securitate, Constante tried to fend off false accusations of “Titoism” and “treason”, but, the victim of constant beatings and torture (much of her hair was torn from the roots), and confronted similar to Zilber’s testimony — which implicated her —, she eventually gave in and admitted to the charges.

Throughout the dismount of her life, she maintained a highly valuable view of Zilber, and expressed her honoring for Pătrăşcanu, who had for long resisted pressures and had been executed in the end. As she avowed in 2004,

For much of her times in prison, Constante was kept in virtually complete solitude, a special regime which she later credited to her earlier refusal to confess. Repeatedly beaten and another time tortured during her stay in special prisons for women, she much later confessed that she was never dexterous to forgive the people liable for her plight. She was freed in 1962; in 1963, she married Brauner, who had furthermore been released. They both were rehabilitated during Nicolae Ceauşescu’s whisk of reviewing Romania’s history under Gheorghiu-Dej (1968).

Constante exhibited her works on two supplementary occasions (in 1970 and 1971, both centered upon tapestry and collage art).

In 1990, after the Romanian Revolution, she published her French-language autobiography L’évasion silencieuse (“The Silent Escape”), at the Éditions La Découverte in Paris. The volume, which Vladimir Tismăneanu has compared to the works of Margarete Buber-Neumann, is written as a diary, and makes use of her prolific memory, which allowed her to scrap book an immense succession of days, years after undertakings had passed. It won the Prize of French-Language Writers’ Association, and was translated into English as The Silent Escape: Three Thousand Days in Romanian Prisons, with a preface by Gail Kligman; the Romanian version (Evadarea tăcută) received the Romanian Academy’s Lucian Blaga Prize. In 1993, she plus published Evadarea imposibilă. Penitenciarul politic de femei Miercurea Ciuc 1957–1961 (“The Impossible Escape. The Political Prison for Women in Miercurea Ciuc 1957–1961”).

In 1997, Constante starred as herself in Nebunia Capetelor, a film by Thomas Ciulei based on The Silent Escape; Ciulei had originally meant to cast Maia Morgenstern as Constante, but ultimately arranged to pay a special tribute to the book’s theme (“I wanted to force the spectator to build himself an imaginary space, as Lena Constante had done behind she was in her cell”).

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