Four volumes of collaborative interventions, 2020

Vol. 1: “Handmade”, online, June – July 2020
Vol. 2: “The voice of a silenced society”, online, April 2020 – now
You can browse the community media here.
Vol. 3: “Stolipinovo Cleaning Agency”, intervention in the community, Sept – Oct 2020
Vol. 4: “Allah razı olsun“, intervention in urban space, Oct – Dec 2020

Volumes 1 – 3 were presented as part of “Duvarmuseum: The Art of Collaboration“, 29 Sept. – 23 Oct., Goethe Institut, Sofia; all volumes – at “Stolipinovo Spring“, 25 – 31 Oct. 2020, pLOVEdiv, Plovdiv.

Duvarmuzei aimed to create a cultural scene, a space for exchange of artistic expression in a deeply segregated ethnic minority community. Creating a cultural centre without a centre. It began with one wall and grew into something more – seeking new approaches, formats and themes for the neighbours to talk to each other, as well as to the outside world.

The Duvarmuzei name (Wall + Museum in Turkish and Bulgarian) pays homage to the words of one our local partners. He insisted that the collaborative comic book “Stories from Stolipinovo / Dedikodu ma’aleden” be exhibited at his house. Later, as he hammered together a structure and set up the exhibits on the external wall of his home, he said to the neighbours: “Look, we are now like the Old Town – all museums!”

Duvarmuzei was designed as an open platform, as a community curatorial project, where periodic interventions in the public space of Stolipinovo would follow collaborative work with individual artists there, in this way establishing a cultural scene in the neighbourhood, as well as educating a public. What these mini projects would be about was left entirely open and flexible in order to respond to community artists’ interests.

The results

The pandemic and the police blokade of Stolipinovo from March till May 2020 imposed a change on our envisioned process, as both collaboration and presentation had to be shifted to the digital world. If before we worked in one of the most deprived parts of the neighbourhood, now we engaged with Stolipinovo’s digital public space, itself under formation. Nikola collaborated closely with a self-organised group of activists, “Residents of Stolipinovo”, who worked intensively along with other local groups to provide solidarity and support within the neighbourhood. The Residents met daily, although individuals were located in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Denmark and elsewhere.

Despite the unforeseen difficulties, we managed to realise four Duvarmuzei Volumes as outcomes from a significant number of collaborations during the spring and summer:

Vol. 1: Handmade

An exhibition of hand-knitted and re-imagined recycled items by two women in Stolipinovo. Although linked to the social enterprise and online shop, Fashion House Karashik, this exhibition allowed the co-artists to imagine more unique and creative ideas that refer to and yet leave behind the items’ practical usage.

Vol. 2: The Voice of Silenced Society

“Filibeliler” is a community media website which Residents of Stolipinovo set up collaboratively with Nikola as an alternative to the biased news reports usually shown in Plovdiv and national media. The initiative was provoked by the strict lockdown of Stolipinovo that began in March. It was hoped that an independent media could serve as a civil society defence from even harsher measures being imposed on the neighbourhood by politicians and the police.

“Filibeliler” means “people of Plovdiv” in Turkish.

Vol. 3: Stolipinovo Cleaning Agency

The deposition of household waste in Stolipinovo and in other dense segregated neighbourhoods in Bulgaria is a burning issue for both their inhabitants and for the outsider public opinion, as media depict those communities as inherently “filthy” and undeserving of the services they receive. In fact, municipal services in those neighbourhoods are meagre and communities have often self-organised to resolve the issues they face on a daily basis.

One important but undervalued aspect to the controversy is the service provided by poor members of the community and paid for by Stolipinovo’s residents: the daily collection of garbage from households for a small sum of money. In this way the community maintains its own cleaning service and offers employment and social integration to people who would have not been able to make a living in other ways (such as people suffering from drug addictions). A household might pay up to 20-30 lv per month to these waste collectors, on top of municipal taxes for waste. These workers transport home bins to municipal or improvised garbage deposition sites, the closest of which may be up to half a kilometre away. There are only five or six sites with containers allocated for a neighbourhood with many tens of thousands of residents.

In this project, Nikola tried to reach out to those most invisible workers inside the community and negotiate with them the options to recognise their contribution to Stolipinovo. Eventually, 7 workers were provided with personalised work-uniforms that made them look like official company workforce of a “Stolipinovo Cleaning Agency”.

Vol. 4: Allah razı olsun

This spring, one could hear this expression thousands of times in Stolipinovo. For Duvar Kolektiv it became a symbol of the incredible solidarity and self-organisation that happened within the community during the lockdown. A number of grassroots groups emerged with the goal of delivering food to the families who had lost any opportunity to put bread on the table. The art initiative remembers what Stolipinovo achieved in times of dire need, and asks where further could this potential take local residents? 5 commemorative posters were put up in different locations of Stolipinovo in partnership with the custodians of those locations, as well as in the gallery.

Duvarпuzei is made possible with the financial assistance of the National Cultural Fund of Bulgaria, program “Socially Engaged Arts”.