#1 – First exploratory visit to Sofia

With the support of Stroom Den Haag and The Mondriaan Fund, I’m working on an art project with my grandfather, who lived most of his turbulent life in Bulgaria, as a starting point. I didn’t know him well because I grew up in The Netherlands and I never even learnt the Bulgarian language.

My grandfather was an anarchistic poet and in conflict with the communists which often brought him to prison. In the Twenties, before the communist regime was leading, he fought against and got chased by the upcoming fascism in Bulgaria. In 1936 my grandfather was convicted of publishing a “seditious” article about police violence in Sofia to two years in prison. To avoid his sentence he fled to Barcelona where he took part in the Spanish civil war against Franco. These times show many similarities with what is going on now in a greater part of Western society and I’m looking for a way to involve these parallels with the present in my work. On this blog you can follow the developments of my work and research in Bulgaria.

My grandfather has put a lot on paper himself, but given his past, there is much ‘information’ stored about him in the archives of the former Bulgarian secret services, which is now publicly available to those affected.
Not only about my grandfather many folders are filled, but also my father was an object that was closely monitored. Even after his arrival in the Netherlands in 1975, the Bulgarian Communists managed to observe him until the end of the Eighties. Part of this project is to eventually make an exhibition in Sofia of the results which consist of paintings and very likely photographs and maybe video works. This partly depends on the kind of documentary archive material I will find, completed with the stories my father has to tell about his father. For now I have in mind to present the whole as an installation of a homelike setting with objects that once could have been in my grandfather’s living room.

December 2016 I paid a first exploratory visit to Sofia. It was a short but intensive journey. My father was with me for the sometimes necessary translations. In Bankya, a small town just outside the city, we were guided through the centralized archive of Bulgaria’s Files Commission where they, since 2011, keep and protect the complete Bulgarian archive of the communist-era secret service (Darzhavna Sigurnost). We had a warm welcome and got the tour by Maria Boneva herself, the head of the department. Here the files are collected on request by people who are directly involved and brought to the reading room of the commission which is located in the city center of Sofia. We also visited this part and we got the opportunity to take a look in some of the files of him and my grandfather. Although my father thought he already had read everything somewhere mid-nineties, he discovered there were several additions since then. A confronting one was a family picture of him together with his mother and my twin brother and me in our living room around 1985. This was probably token from intercepted mail from my father, then already living in the Netherlands, to his parents in Bulgaria. Also pictures of his old typing machine, the pamphlet he’d written that caused him almost three years in prison and reports of his rebellious behavior in it were added.


Walking through “Roese” in the archive of the former secret services of Bulgaria, centralized in Sofia