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True Paris in downtown Sofia – an exhibition by Elena Nazarova

She is that 23 years old Bulgarian artist - a graduate of the National High School of Applied Arts "St. Luca", who has been engaged “all her life” in visual arts. Art is her language of choice when she needs to speak up about problems to which society often gives a deaf ear.

Her name is Elena Nazarova. Her fourth solo exhibition “TOWNSMEN” can be viewed at the "+359" gallery in the former Water Tower in downtown Sofia until the end of January. The show consists of sculptures, paintings and sketches, photographs and a documentary. It is part of a larger project which Elena started in Paris while she lived there for a year.

“The theme of the exhibition is social inequality. It is about my distress when I see the homeless people in the streets of Paris at night. I use the expressive means of pop art and pop culture,” Elena explains.

In the autumn of 2019 she went to Paris to participate in an art residency program “Le Laboratoire de la Création” at the invitation of none other than the director of the art studios Julien de Casabianca. She knew De Casabianca because she worked as his assistant a few years ago in Sofia on a project of the French Cultural Institute. This was her first visit to France.

"I didn't have great expectations when I went to Paris. Perhaps this is the best way to visit a new place," she said. “My first impression was of a typical west European city. Yes, there was a lot of glamor in Paris. Of course, people have been romanticizing this city for centuries, so it became one of the most desirable destinations in Europe. But its contrasts made a very strong impression on me. The myth of this city, the huge crowds of tourists who come and go day after day, and at the same time the harsh reality of the Western world – that many people live practically in poverty.”

Elena stayed at a place near “Châtelet Les Halles” in the heart of Paris. It is a popular tourist destination by day and a haven for the homeless by night. But you’ll rarely hear anyone mention it, says Elena. She remembers the place all alive during daytime with its street artists, shops and pop art galleries. And then at night the very same streets, flooded with hundreds of people sleeping on sidewalks and benches.

There were 3,000 homeless people in Paris in January 2022, according to charity organizations. “I was shocked to find out that so many people are apt to turn a blind eye to what is happening around them," the Bulgarian recalls.

She says she wants her art to express her reflections on the very topics the general public tends to avoid. "Art is a very good communication channel for conveying suggestions, metaphors and topics for discussion,” she says. “This can be a very direct way to change the perspective.”

She had been hesitant as to whether to show the exhibition in Sofia, because she believed that the subject matter was far from the Bulgarian reality. The gap between the rich and the poor is not so extreme here, the artist believes. She draws a parallel between the cultural life in Sofia and in Paris:

“In Sofia everything is more condensed. Culture, in its various manifestations and movements, happens somehow collectively, despite all the differences. We have communities of one form of art or another. While in a big city like Paris this sense of belonging to a community can be hard to achieve.”

Currently the young artist is in Bulgaria. She dreams of the times when life will return to normal after the pandemic, so that she may realize her next projects and bring her art out into the public space. She also plans to show “TOWNSMEN” in Paris - where the project was born - by the end of the year.

Translated from Bulgarian by Elizabeth Radkova

Photos: private library
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