The village of Staro Zhelezare, near Plovdiv in central Bulgaria, has been turned into an open-air gallery by a Polish-Bulgarian artist couple, husband and wife Katarzyna Piryankova and Ventsislav (Ventsi) Piryankov. The pair teach art students at the University of Fine Arts in Poznań, Poland. Their students have also contributed to the gallery.
Village locals can admire reproductions of world-famous pieces of art, such as the clocks of prominent Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí and the rural paintings of Marc Chagall, a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin. The open-air gallery also features Andy Warhol’s iconic pop-art images of Marilyn Monroe and his Campbell’s Soup Cans, as well as Marcel Duchamp’s bicycle wheel, Jackson Pollock’s abstraction and the white square on white background by Kazimir Malevich.
The gallery also features portraits of the village locals themselves: Grandma Velika, Grandfather Ivan, Shaban, Janko and Ali from the Roma district, among many others. Furthermore, the paintings of the locals on the stone walls and fences of the village houses “welcome guests” from around the world, regardless of their political ideology. Images of Yasser Arafat, Che Guevara, various Popes and current US President Donald Trump are painted next to them.
“While it is impossible to imagine that these two types of people will ever come together, the dream of an artist is to imagine that this is possible and bring them together,” Katarzyna Piryankova told Balkan Insight.
Since 2015, the couple has organised a summer mural festival: Village of Personalities/Art for social change, in Ventsi’s home village. This year, the project is part of the Plovdiv 2019 Cultural Capital of Europe programme.
Ventsi stated that their open-air gallery project seeks to expose art to the village community and raise issues regarding the cohabitation of different cultures and tolerance. Katarzyna added that, by pursuing this project, they are rediscovering the village’s history, myths and legends, thanks to which they were able to revive the village and its sense of value.