Mural of Barack Obama shaking hands with another man
Bulgaria,  Street art,  Travel galleries

Gallery: Staro Zhelezare, another street art village

Can you change the world, or at least one village, with street art? It seems that in several parts of the world, that idea is taking hold.

The idea is to use the village as our canvas and to transform it into a work of art.

Staro Zhelezare blog

I recently wrote about our visit to a Gambian village, Kubuneh, which has been turned into a giant canvas for street artists in an effort to promote tourism and thus support local people. Doing so, I was reminded of another very different village I visited in Bulgaria, where something similar is happening.

Staro Zhelezare

On the walls of this out-of-the-way village a group of young Polish artists have painted portraits of famous people alongside those of villagers. Their aim was to show that everyone matters, regardless of fame or lack of it; and also to see if such a project can revive the fortunes of a village struggling with population decline. As in many rural areas everywhere, young people are being drawn to the cities and birth rates falling. There are fewer than 500 living here now, a fifth of the population before the collapse of communism in 1989. Could an art project help to draw tourists to the village and help boost its economy?

Well it certainly drew us; although unfortunately we didn’t have time to do more than take a few photos, and certainly not to stay long enough to spend any money. My friends and I only made a very short stop here, as we were on our way back to Plovdiv after a long day out at Koprivshtitsa. It was the first evening of a Virtual Tourist Euromeet (explanation here) and we didn’t want to be late for dinner! But maybe others will spend the time here that we would have liked to have done had we been able. We only saw a small part of the village and only a few murals, but I liked what I saw.

A selection of the murals

These photos were taken in 2019 so the portraits reflect some of the politics and news stories of that time. They include Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama. But there are many others such as Alfred Hitchcock, Princess Diana, Bob Marley, the Beatles, Mahatma Gandhi and Che Guevara.

Mural of Barack Obama with a man and some chickens
Mural of Angela Merkel and a man in a cap
Mural of Emmanuel Macron and lady talking
Mural of man in white shirt and Che Guevara
Mural of Donald Trump and a cow

Of course I had to wonder if there was any significance to the portrayal of Trump with a bovine, rather than human, resident. It seemed likely that this was a political statement of sorts by the artist concerned. Although as Marilyn Monroe is elsewhere pictured with two pigs, maybe not!

You can read about the project in more detail, and see very many more images, here: I’ll finish with another quote from that website:

For the outsider, the effect is a gallery of familiar personalities, depicted in their trademark postures, costumes and moods. For the insider, however, this open-air gallery has a second meaning – the faces of the villagers, their smiles and personality traits, are equally recognisable. The graffiti of Staro Zhelezare are simultaneously a representation of people of global and local importance.

I visited Bulgaria in 2019


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