< FAR AWAY FROM HOME: THE VOICES, THE BODY AND THE PERIPHERY
"All utopias are depressing because they leave no room to chance, to difference, to those who are 'different'. Everything has been ordered; order reigns. Behind every utopia lies a great taxonomic design: a place for everything and every thing in its place."
(Georges Perec, Thoughts of Sorts)
I was born in 1976 in communist Bulgaria (1944-1989) and raised with the belief in the communist ideals: public ownership in a classless society free of capitalist oppression and ruled by the working class, where everyone contributes according to their ability and receives according to their needs; equality and brotherhood among nations; free education and healthcare; common means of production... In 1989 the communist utopian experiment came to its end in Bulgaria, followed until today by poverty, corruption, and unprecedentedly high levels of emigration toward the West.
I have been living in the Netherlands for 20 years now, which is governed by a parliamentary democracy. I walked the path from illegal immigrant to a holder of Dutch nationality and I am still struggling to find my place in society – this is the main subject of my artistic practice.
'Far away from home: the voices, the body and the periphery' is a project inspired by a heated debate that took place some time ago. In public, a Dutch citizen with an academic background asked me: "Are you a communist?"
To understand what it means to be a communist, I have chosen to place the word in its historical contexts in the Netherlands and in Bulgaria.
Before, during, and after WWII the Dutch government had seen a conqueror and a great danger in the face of the communist ideology. The Dutch communists played an important role in the Resistance during the war (when the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany), and many lost their lives in prisons and Nazi concentration camps. They did not, however, receive real recognition for their deeds after the Liberation and were excluded from the ruling government.
In Bulgaria, the communists, with the help of the Red Army, became the main ruling political power after the war, which today is declared criminal and totalitarian. Nevertheless, at present, a big part of the political establishment has ties to the former communist State Security Service, applying the 'old' (originating from the past) methods of governance. This results in a lack of public memory about the existence of forced labour concentration camps in Communist Bulgaria.
When coming back to the question of my relation to communism, I took these two historical contexts into consideration. On the one hand, I researched the participation of the Dutch communists in the Resistance in the occupied Netherlands and their persecution during WWII, and on the other the criminal deeds of the Bulgarian communists aimed at realising the communist utopia in Bulgaria after the war. Being in between these two contexts, I asked myself: "Do the local people see me as a victim (resistance fighter) or a perpetrator? Am I what they think of me?"
To answer these questions, I started an investigation of the historical events by 'walking' in the footsteps of the Dutch and Bulgarian communists. The information for my artistic research is drawn from the collective and individual memory that can be found in both countries: archives, literature, testimonies, academic research, and my own experience and fieldwork.
I took photographs at commemorative sites at former Nazi concentration camps in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Austria, and Poland, where many Dutch communists were murdered. I have also tried to find the locations of former communist concentration camps in Bulgaria (today many of them are only approximately known), which were intended for whoever disagreed with the regime.
Engaging with history and realizing that what is remembered of the past is a construction that reflects on our idea of who we are, I wish to provoke a debate on our shared future in Europe: what does it mean to be seen as a 'communist' today or to define yourself as one? What is the common ground of ideologies like communism and National Socialism and what is their significance for the 'average' citizen of Europe? How do different societies organize their memory culture and are they able to bring it into a critical perspective? How to build my own narrative that is critical, but ethical at the same time, and which creates space for a stimulating dialogue for mutual understanding? How do the interpretation of history and the politics of remembrance influence the forming of our identities and our view on the future?
The book has been nominated for the Les Rencontres d'Arles 2023 - Photo -Text Book Award and the Encontros da Imagem 2023 - Photobook Award.
Edition of 300
Concept, photography and text: Hristina Tasheva
A flower is placed between the pages of each book, gathered during my visits to Dachau and Mauthausen concentration camp memorials.
Special thanks to: Edwin Stolk, Tasho Tashev, Petranka Ivanova and Stojanka Ruseva; Federal Court of Justice (Leipzig); Jan Malecha and Karoline Turner (Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation), Mihail Marinov (Belene Island Foundation), Plamka Boshnyakova and Dimitar Stoimenov (Archives State Agency); Nikolai Kiryakov and Anton Tonev (Coals-Pernik Ltd., mine Bela Voda), Madlena Rusanova (Byala Reka); Velina Stoykova; Annette Lubbers, Frans Lavell and Clara Rosa Nooter; Martine Stig, Frank van der Stok, Lucette Ter Borg, Astrid Dekkers, Natasha Christia and Carine Dolek.
© Hristina Tasheva 2023
This publication has been made possible thanks to a financial contribution from the Mondriaan Fund, Jaap Harten Fund and Elisabeth Vermaat Müller Fund managed by the Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds (The Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds administrates more than 450 Culture Funds by Name).
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