HRISTINA TASHEVA

< FAR AWAY FROM HOME: THE VOICES, THE BODY AND THE PERIPHERY

_______________WORK IN PROGRESS

 

"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 – a classless society free of capitalist oppression and governed by the working class, where everyone works according to his ability and receives according to his 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 unprecedented high levels of emigration towards the West.

It is now 20 years since I am living in the Netherlands, which is governed as a parliamentary democracy. I walked the path from illegal immigrant to a holder of the Dutch nationality and I am still struggling to find my place in society – 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 person 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 context 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 took 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 receive real recognition for their deeds after the Liberation and were excluded from the ruling government.

In Bulgaria (and the rest of Eastern Europe), after the war with the help of the Red Army, the communists became the main ruling political power, which today is declared criminal and totalitarian. However, in present days, a big part of the political establishment has ties to the former State Security Service, applying the ‘old’ (originating from the communist past) methods of governance that results in a lack of public memory about the existence of forced labor concentration camps in Communist Bulgaria.

Taking into consideration the participation of the Dutch communists in the Resistance in the occupied Netherlands and their prosecution during WWII and the criminal deeds of the Bulgarian communists in order to realize the communist utopia in Bulgaria after the war, I asked myself ‘am I seen as a victim (resistance fighter) or a perpetrator by the local people? Am I what they think of me?’

I have started a subjective investigation of these historical events by ‘walking’ in the footsteps of the communists as a method of understanding the ‘other’. The information for my artistic study is drawn from the collective memory that is constructed in both countries: archives, literature, testimonies of victims and perpetrators, academic research, and my own experience and fieldwork.

I took photographs at former Nazi concentration camps in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Poland, where many Dutch communists were murdered. I have also tried to find the locations of the communist concentration camps created in Bulgaria (today many of their locations are only approximately known), 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 able to bring it into a critical perspective? How to build my own narrative that is critical, but ethical and a stimulating dialogue for mutual understanding? How does the interpretation of history and politics of remembering influence the forming of our identities and our view on the future?

 

photo above (c) 2019 www.document-architecture.com

Presenting first steps in my new research at the first malenki.net event at Tique Art Space in Antwerp (Belgium)

Presenting 'Far away from home: the voices, the body and the periphery (work in progress)' at an event organised by Second Thoughts (a collective exploration on Eastern Europeanness), Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

'Far away from home: the voices, the body and the periphery' part of the 5th edition of the International Photo Festival Leiden (the Netherlands) from September 17 till October 31, 2021.

From September 18 till December 1, 2021 International Photo Festival Leiden will be part of Photoville Festival (New York, USA) and in May 2022 - at Head On Photo Festival in Sydney (Australia).