An art project shining a light on Bulgaria’s forced evictions is placing images of families given just a week to leave their homes in the rubble of their now-demolished houses.
50 people — including 30 children — were evicted from Gradinite Street in the Orlandovtsi neighbourhood of Sofia in 2017. All were Roma, Bulgaria’s largest ethnic minority. None were given alternative housing. Instead, many were forced to live in tents provided by local churches, or other makeshift shelters.
The project, organised by city art activism group Fine Acts as part of the global Inside Out project, took intimate portraits of 35 former residents before printing out the images and placing them in the ruins of the homes. The photos were taken by Bulgarian photographer Vesselina Nikolaeva, who has worked with the community for the past five years.
Fine Acts Campaigns Director Svetla Baeva said that the action humanised people who were often segregated from the community at large. The group also wanted to give Bulgarians a space to talk about the problem away from the emotional, high stake moments of the evictions themselves, which often take place close to local elections or following conflict between Roma and non-Roma communities.
“Art has allowed us to attract new audiences,” Baeva told The Calvert Journal. “It gives people the space to interpret and connect on this issue in their own way. We don’t directly shame or point fingers, so people — particularly people on the fence [about this issue] — can ask questions without feeling stupid or that they’re ‘on the wrong side’.”
With anti-Roma hate speech on the rise, the project is more important than ever, says Baeva. “People are blinded by stereotypes,” she says. “This is work to help people connect on a more human level.”