A Bulgarian village called Staro Zhelezare and situated near the city of Plovdiv is about to become a kind of outdoor art gallery. A gallery where one can see local people depicted next to world famous persons. The man behind the transformation of Staro Zhelezare is artist Ventsislav Piryankov born in this picturesque region. In the early 90s he spent a year studying in the Art Academy in Sofia before winning a contest and going to the Polish city of Poznan, where he continued his studies. There he created an art school that trains young artists. This summer he and his students came to Bulgaria to take part in a large-scale project. This is the third edition of our summer art meetings. We called it the First Mural Festival, the artist says in an interview for Radio Bulgaria.
"The first two editions took place inside our house that we turned into a gallery or an art centre. My idea for the murals, which appeared on the high stone walls of the village yards this year, came spontaneously during a discussion with my wife in the studio. And that is how we decided to organise the festival with the hope to continue it in the next year."
Curiously, a mural on the facade of the local church shows Indira Gandhi and Fidel Castro. This is not accidental - in 1968 the village was visited by the Indian prime minister, and in 1972, legendary Fidel Castro also paid a visit to Staro Zhelezare. About 80 graffiti murals decorate walls of local houses. Among the celebrities depicted one can see Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth, Angela Merkel, John Kennedy, Barack Obama, Putin, Einstein, Steve Jobs. There are historical figures like revolutionary Vasil Levski, Tsar Boris III, communist leader Todor Zhivkov ... We can see contemporary Bulgarian politicians like Boyko Borissov, Maya Manolova, Volen Siderov ... What is the opinion of local people about the murals decorating their village?
"The excitement of the people is beyond our expectations. At the beginning there was a bit of hesitation because they were drawn together with famous people. In fact, the whole process began with the wall of our house in order to attract people to the idea. We chose to draw some of our friends together with famous people. A good example is our neighbour Velika who is a very interesting old woman. In the graffiti mural she is sitting next to Queen Elizabeth. My mother can be seen speaking with Margaret Thatcher. Next to them one can see uncle Ivan speaking with Barack Obama. Initially people were shy and wondered why they should be in the paintings. But days passed and now everyone is very excited about the project.”
Does the village attract more tourists now?
"I think so, because we started the initiative about a month ago. There are a number of tourists passing through the village because there are wineries in the region, as well as the Thracian temple near Starosel. The mineral baths of Hisarya are also nearby. So in the beginning tourists were a bit surprised finding themselves among those murals. But many stopped, took pictures and we told them about the idea. That is how the village became a destination itself and people started coming just to see the murals. Foreigners having a vacation in the town of Hisarya came especially to see the graffiti. There were also people coming from Varna, Panagyurishte and other places to see the graffiti.”
We should mention that Ventsislav Piryankov himself finances the participation of his students and paid for the transportation. The young people spend the night in the art centre created in his house. "I hope that the idea would be successful and there would be no obstacles before its continuation.” After my students leave, I am going to have some vacation or maybe I would create a few more murals together with my wife.”
English: Alexander Markov
Photos provided by wife of Ventsislav Piryankov – Katazhina Piryankova