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“The story money tells”

Interactive exhibition illustrating the history of Bulgaria as depicted on banknotes

БНР Новини
Photo: Fuse - Vergil Mitev

The exhibition “The story money tells” is on display at the Boris Christoff Culture House in Plovdiv until the end of September. “It is a bizarre, unorthodox history exhibition, telling the story of the figures depicted on Bulgarian banknotes. They are all prominent figures in the country’s history and we all think we know all about them, but even to us, experts, they remain a mystery,” says the exhibition’s curator Vessela Nozharova. The exposition helps us learn many and interesting facts about the life of St. Ivan of Rila, the patron saint of the Bulgarian people, about the National revival time figures of Paisiy of Hilendar and Petar Beron, politician Stefan Stambolov, writer Aleko Konstantinov, poet Pencho Slaveikov, painter Ivan Milev. A total of seven political and public figures adorn the Bulgarian bills now in circulation.

“The idea for this exhibition first came to our colleague culturologist Yuriy Vulkanov. At a conference he was attending in Dulbin, he was invited to an official dinner, where the other participants started asking him questions about Bulgaria. So, it occurred to him to take a Bulgarian banknote out of his wallet and show it to them. That was how he started telling the history of the country, using the figure depicted on the banknote. He started with Stefan Stambolov, a prominent politician who has done a great deal for the country. Then he showed them Pencho Slaveikov and told them about the poetry he wrote. It is a splendid idea because if we take a good look at the pieces of paper we all keep in our pockets we shall discover the important and intricate stories they tell. For example, on the banknote where Pencho Slaveikov is depicted there is a carriage and also the poetess Mara Belcheva – an allusion to the couple’s love – as well as lines from the love letters they exchanged. Each banknote tells the story of a given figure, but also of a certain period in the country’s history.”

As a matter of fact, the exhibition is fashioned as Lego pieces arranged in seven large cubes. In-between them there are smaller cubes made of glass where exhibits from different history museums across the country are on display. The exposition provides little known but intriguing facts from the lives of the men depicted.

“A colleague of ours from the Ethnographic Museum in Plovdiv paid us a visit and she said: I didn’t know that Petar Beron (scholar and encyclopaedist) was strangled or that he was a gynecologist.” Which only goes to show that few people have an intimate knowledge of the lives of historical figures who have otherwise become something of a cliché,” Vessela Nozharova says.

“Our system of education is an absolute disaster, and it is not just education. There is something really wrong with the way Bulgarian museums function. They encourage such a hackneyed and outdated view of our history. We know all the stereotypes without any insight and without asking ourselves “Why?” Bulgarian museums are unable to attract young people and that is something we have tried to avoid in this exhibition. For example, we are displaying a typewriter so that children can see how authors wrote their works at the turn of the 20th century, before the computer age. And if they want to, they can sit down and type something themselves. They can also write letters in sand, as was the teaching method applied by Petar Beron himself. Or they can sit down at an old school desk from the 1950’s. There are monitors at the Culture House showing documentaries, excerpts of TV shows, photographs and displaying information about the historical figures in question. For example, what noise Niagara Falls makes because we tell the story of Aleko Konstantinov and his travels to America, we also show the postcard he sent Pencho Slaveikov from there. We also have here the original of the Fish Primer by Petar Beron from 1862, as well as original drawings by artist Ivan Milev. We have endeavoured to make the exposition interactive so that it may interest our youngest visitors.”

After the end of September each of the elements of the “The story money tells” exhibition will be donated to a school, bearing the name of the respective historical figure, making the banknotes part of the school environment of latter day Bulgaria.

English version: Milena Daynova

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