We are counting down the last few days of our time abroad. We left Sofia a week ago and are visiting Spain. The atmosphere in Bulgaria felt tenser than it did when we were there last year. People were more disillusioned with the government, yet there were no more mass protests. There was lots of talk about the rising tide of the right wing in Bulgaria, visible too in the graffiti.
The question on our minds on this trip was “what does it mean to be here?” Is the place where you live defined by the people around you, the landscape, the politics, the art and culture? Where is here?
In this globalized world, it’s sometimes hard to be sure where you are. Part of the allure of travel is to try and find something different, experience another culture. We would find ourselves in a charming local café and think that we’d finally found something unique, only to have the voice of Michael Bublé (the Canadian crooner) come blaring out over the sound system. Or when a Bulgarian activist we were visiting removed his battery from his cell phone, just in case he was being monitored, only to find out later via Facebook that an activist organization in Vancouver had just discovered that all of its e-mails had been monitored and ‘shared’ with Kinder Morgan. Here can sometimes be a lot like there.
We made many friends who spent a lot of their time talking to us about their country, their fears and their hopes, about what it was like to be here. Our deeply felt thanks to Biliana Velkova, Tanya Svechnikova, Sveda Semer, Vera Gotseva, Petko Dourmana, Zoya Naskova and many more friends who welcomed us, and tried to teach us a little bit about the places they come from. We wanted to conclude the Offsite project by showing you some of the work of just a few of the talented artists and writers we met and we wanted to thank all of you who have followed our posts for your thoughtful comments.
Biliana Velkova is originally from Sofia, Bulgaria. She now lives in Vancouver. Velkova uses photography, performance and humour to explore the significance of consumerist culture, diaspora and social identity. Visit her at bilianavelkova.com. See her Pomeranian Project here: 100poms.tumblr.com.
Sevda Semer: writer and freelance illustrator and zine maker. Most of her work comes from the visual diaries she works on every day. She says, “the diaries are very important to me and I draw a lot in them, so almost everything I do is part documentation and part reaction.”
Her images here are street photographs from Sofia, which she prints in her darkroom and later embroiders. See more of her work here.
Vera Gotseva, also known as Lomovera: journalist and photographer. She uses vintage film cameras to take photos. She’s had three solo photography exhibitions. She also works as a lifestyle journalist. Vera says that for her, “'Here' is a construct of the mind. This strange place between imagination, action and a memory of it. In this case 'Here' is a something like an instant photography. Or a memory of the memory before the action. Love is here and 'Here' is love.”
See her work at lomovera.com and blossom-raindrops.tumblr.com.
A statue of King Samuel was recently erected in Sofia. Samuel was the King of Bulgaria from 997 to 1014. We were told that the right wing faction of the government had funded the building of the statue and that from a distance the statue of King Samuel looked quite normal, but up close you could see that it had ‘laser eyes.’ Supposedly a Macedonian journalist once cited the statue to demonstrate how advanced Bulgarian artists were at using technology to enhance their public art. Our Bulgarian friends had been complaining about statue to us since the day we arrived.
We had searched for the statue of King Samuel many times, but we were always looking in daylight and could never find it. On our last day in Sofia, we finally asked a tour guide where the sculpture was, and he pointed to the large statue standing directly behind us.
It was just before nightfall and we joined a small queue of people who were standing in front of the monument, waiting for darkness to fall so that we could see the King’s eyes light up. The statue of King Samuel faces a Socialist-era monument to the Bulgarian soldiers who were defeated in a battle with the Byzantines. King Samuel died before the battle. The Byzantine ruler who won the battle had the defeated Bulgarian soldiers blinded: for every one hundred soldiers that he blinded, he left one soldier with one eye to lead the blinded soldiers home. The Socialist-era sculpture in the park depicts the blinded soldiers hunched over in pain, covering their wounded eyes and pressing forth, while the new King Samuel statue stands tall and aloof, glowering at the soldiers with his laser eyes.