Stoyan Michalkovski, a Bulgarian writer known for his fables inspired by La Fontaine, wrote the story of a snail and an eagle. As you can imagine, the story ends badly for the little shellfish. However, as their conversation takes place in the mountains, the astonished eagle asks the snail how he got so high. “By crawling,” exclaims the snail.
Bulgarian culture sometimes looks like a snail. Let’s say that under its shell it keeps a well-kept secret. I sometimes make the comparison between Bulgarian art and the hidden files of the old secret services. Bulgarian artists hide their art very well. They are not very good when it comes to showing off. They very often stay at home, located between four borders. Positive or not, it creates something specific to their culture, and very interesting. Art lives a little isolated, does not follow any fashion. Like the work of someone who would live retired in the mountains and who, every day, little by little, would build his work, while waiting for someone to come and discover it
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The perception of the artists on the part of the public, the critics, as well as the political classes, and the almost manic resistance to their success outside the country, are also interesting points. There is an anecdote from the communist era: a short Bulgarian animated film called “Marriage” wins the Palme d’Or. The authorities protest: “The Cannes criteria are not those of Bulgarian cinematography. »And to initial the film:« without artistic value ». This story repeats itself constantly, from all decades – most recently with “February” by Kamen Kalev (Official Selection at Cannes in 2020) and “Women Do Cry” (other Cannes selection), of the tandem Mineva / Kazakova. It has come to this point that some conservative politicians deem artists who have had the “misfortune” to gain recognition in the West as “demonic” or “talentless”. The attacks (which concern several guests and guests of the festival) are very often orchestrated by certain circles, starting with social media, but also by official media, until being relayed in full parliamentary forum. Everything is allowed. And it always ends on the same sentence: Here, it’s like that.
Media humiliations and “fiery persecutions” feed a toxic climate that has killed many talents, especially among women. There is not only a climate of extreme misogyny, but also racism and homophobia. For example, it is impossible to find traces in all contemporary art of a member of the gypsy community. Gypsies are only good at making wedding music… Artists who display themselves publicly as LGBTQ +, that hardly exists. Intercultural exchanges are rare. There is no outside influence. All that matters is the “official national culture”, which is often imitative and self-repeating.
And this climate always gives Bulgarian artists the same feeling of being immigrants in their own country. So either they stay in their shell, like a snail, in a daily, almost partisan fight; or they emigrate. In a landscape where the tree of prejudices branches out, Bulgarian art is constantly divided between its desire to be European and its past, both marked by its oriental roots and absolute traditionalism. Does the idea of discovering this culture leave you skeptical? You would be wrong to miss out on the opportunity offered. Despite an unfavorable climate, there are Bulgarian artists who face reality with great courage, in a radical, poetic way; almost sentimental.
I can compare Bulgarian art to little pearls, little jewels hidden in the forest. This is what Parisians will discover. The art of the Balkan Peninsula – with its melancholy depth which, being typically Bulgarian, knows how to speak to everyone.
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This event will be like a snapshot of what is happening most interesting at the moment. I hope that this time no pandemic or other will prevent the festival from being held. In this regard, I did not find it trivial that the only postponed edition was the one devoted to Sofia. An edition postponed due to a virus. There is something absurd about this. And the absurd is a characteristic feature of Bulgarian creation. Even though Bulgarian culture may seem like a snail, Bulgarian artists are more like the eagle. They dream big and, likewise, act big. Take the case of Christo. In their actions one finds no intimacy among the Bulgarians. There are no limits. And the fable can end thus: the snail, before ending in its beak, asks the eagle to grant it one last will: that of flying in the air. The little tour of the sky accomplished, the eagle eats the snail, completely satisfied.
So I wish you during this edition of A Weekend in the East devoted to Sofia: a gastronomic experience like that of the eagle.
Theodore Ushev, organic express
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Born in Kyustendil, Bulgaria on February 4, 1968, Theodore Ushev is a Bulgarian-born Canadian animation filmmaker. After making a name for himself as a poster designer in his native country, he moved to Montreal in 1999. He is the godfather of the 5th edition of the A Weekend in the East festival, which this year celebrates the artistic vitality of Sofia and Bulgaria. Cinema, theater, visual arts, debates of ideas, literature, concerts … more than 30 artists are invited to Paris for 5 days, from November 24 to 29. Information on https://weekendalest.com/
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“Bulgarian culture is too well kept a secret”, by Theodore Ushev