Tue, 27 Sep 2022

Bulgaria's 'Graffiti Capital'

08 Aug 2022, 23:15 GMT+10

A local couple rides past a wall featuring political figures interacting with cartoon characters in Staro Zhelezare on August 6.

The political portraits seen in the photo above are some of the hundreds of outdoor images painted onto the walls and houses of Staro Zhelezare, near Bulgaria's central city of Plovdiv.

Art has been appearing on the streets on Staro Zhelezare since 2015.

Staro Zhelezare

Each summer, a Polish/Bulgarian couple -- Katarzyna and Ventzislav Piriankov -- leave Poznan, Poland, where they teach art, and travel to Ventzislav's grandparents' property in Staro Zhelezare with a handful of their students.

Polish art student Tamara Tarnawska paints a wall in Staro Zhelezare on August 6.

The students paint new works each day in the mornings and evenings through several weeks in July and August.

Katarzyna says the outdoor art project is 'an attempt to revive the village.'

After the collapse of communism in Bulgaria, most inhabitants left Staro Zhelezare for Bulgarian cities or to live abroad.

Ventzislav says concepts for the art that will be painted on the village walls are thought of "with a kind of a brainstorm, especially in the evening when we drink a little."

A house painted with portraits of local residents of Staro Zhelezare.

Locals of the village were skeptical at first of the outdoor painting project. "It's interesting," Katarzyna says. "In the beginning, the Roma society here was more open to it."

After a buzz began over the unusual decorations and tourists began to visit, ethnic Bulgarians also started to warm to the idea.

"Now locals even wait in a line to have art made on their walls," Katarzyna says.

Many paintings incorporate local characters. The cow depicted above alongside former U.S. President Donald Trump belongs to the owner of the house on which the artwork is painted.

Anna Kossyk walks past a wall she and other Polish art students painted in 2022.

Anna Kossyk was one of the art students who made the mural above, relating to the current war in Ukraine. She says she "fell in love with Bulgaria" for the friendliness of the villagers and will return to Staro Zhelezare next summer to continue the outdoor art project.

A public toilet in Staro Zhelezare featuring Princess Diana and a defaced portrait of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, alongside local people.

Not all villagers are fans of the art. Some works have been quietly painted over, and certain political figures, such as former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have been scraped off walls.

The owner of the house seen above asked for a portrait of Josef Stalin, which has since been defaced with red paint. The villager is depicted on a goat facing off against the former Soviet ruler.

According to Katarzyna, the ever-expanding art project appears to be unique in the world.

A painting of former U.S. President Donald Trump and two art students being towed by a local man on a tractor.

The village is now being included in some tour excursions, and travelers who make the drive out to the obscure rural town can be seen on most days in summer.

With hundreds of walls left to paint in the village, Katarzyna says there is no specific final goal for the project.

'We don't see the end of the story. It's only about the process, about new ideas,' she says.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036

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