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A tale of a war before this war

Artist Borjana Ventzislavova shows her exhibition We/Re Nature in Sofia

Photo: Irina Nedeva

“Nightmare. The war in Ukraine is a horrible nightmare, conceived by a sick mind.” This is the beginning of our conversation with Borjana Ventzislavova - an artist whose work is deeply committed to humanity - in all its aspects.

Boryana lives in Vienna, but at the time the war broke out, she was in Bulgaria, arranging her latest exhibition We/re nature at the National Art Gallery Kvadrat 500.

The project is taking place simultaneously in two venues in Sofia - the large exhibition at the National Gallery of Art and the pre-premiere exhibition "If You Want It" at UniCredit Studio. It deals with the militant attitude of humanity towards nature and the need for a radical shift in it. The aggressive way we treat the environment and the way we irresponsibly draw on natural resources must be changed before it is too late, argues the artist, her works being an artistic vision of a war before the war.


"A month ago I had no idea that the word "war" would be so relevant now with this coflict so close to our homes," says Borjana.

The artist explores the nature of mobility, she investigates identity, her art crosses social, geographical and cultural boundaries, examines relationships between people and social groups, and tells the stories of people and communities and how they influence each other.


A series of photographs, a 27-minute film and an installation of natural objects and artificial neon light can be seen mixing in the gallery space of Kvadrat-500.Through all of these different artistic techniques, Boryana expresses her strong stand that it is high time to rethink and change a lot of things. Especially in the light of the pandemic which clearly showed us that it is not our role to be the "master" in the scenario of life.

Ventzislavova has been working on her We/re nature project for more than 10 years. She first showed it in 2021 at the KunstForum in Vienna, where she has been living for the last 25 years, after she graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Austria’s capital.

"Austria is a country that really cares about its culture, the government policies support art and this is why I stayed there after my studies. I have been living here for 25 years now," says the Bulgarian, who was granted Austrian citizenship for her services in the visual arts and was awarded the City of Vienna Prize in 2017.


Coming to Austria from the "interesting", in her words, times of chaos in Sofia in the 1990s, the Bulgarian was very impressed by the civic engagement of Austrian society:

Not a week passes with no demonstrations, no matter who is currently in power. Austrians are not indifferent to what is happening. In recent years things have started to change in Bulgaria too and people are voicing their discontent, but we are still far from drawing a parallel with the situation in Austria.

We Bulgarians are pessimists by nature, we lack the belief that we can change something and that things depend on our actions. Perhaps this is also historically and politically based.

See, the Ukrainians at the moment are an incredible example of that spirit. They deserve great respect for the way they are reacting to injustice. I have many Ukrainian colleagues who have had the opportunity to leave the country, or still have that option, but have chosen to stay there. I think that their motivation and strength to resist deserves absolute respect. Unfortunately this too is something that we Bulgarians seem to lack" - says Boryana.


And the only thing she wishes herself and others today is peace and health!

*The exhibition We/re nature in the National Art Gallery "Square 500" runs until 17 April 2022. The accompanying exhibition, If You Want, can be seen through March 15, 2022. 


English version: Elizabeth Radkova

Photos: Irina Nedeva, nationalgallery.bg

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