In a small gallery room underneath the Bulgarian Embassy at 188 Queen’s Gate in South Kensington, Valchan Petrov displayed his latest art to a crowd largely made up of one of London’s newest immigrant communities, the Bulgarians. In this latest expression of Bulgar culture in London, deep Orthodox symbols fused with images of the naked form and vivid tones of blue, orange and green adorned the modest gallery room. The wood and canvas blended seamlessly with ornate frames, becoming an extension of the art itself.
Pictured: Creation by Valchan Petrov
Art such as this, with heavy religious influence, would have been restricted under Bulgaria’s communist regime, which promoted the aesthetic of socialist realism. The liberalisation of modern Bulgaria as well as its further integration into the EU is reflected in its art scene, causing a surge in cultural output from the country. In 2011, The Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia was opened to showcase state sponsored propaganda from the era, as did the Sofia Arsenal Museum of Contemporary Art, the first of its kind in Bulgaria and funded by grants from the governments of Luxembourg, Norway and Iceland. EU grants have also funded new Bulgarian language films, allowing local screenwriters to exercise their talents.
Bulgarian culture reflects massively on its history, from Bulgar and Thracian tribes to Byzantine orthodoxy to Ottoman suzerainty. The newest influence on Bulgarian art will seemingly permeate from Western Europe. However, according to Valchan Petrov “we are influenced by a few massive cultures at the expense of the small countries like Bulgaria, and there is a danger for us to lose our authenticity. Many of my colleagues, especially the younger ones, are doing artworks which can be done by a painter from Belgia or France.”, it appears Bulgarian culture must find its place within the greater European sphere while simultaneously maintaining its unique character, a daunting task in the age of mass global media. Whatever challenges lay ahead, Bulgarian culture proves to shine now as much as ever, at home and abroad.