With their The Temptation of Chalga exhibition, modern Bulgarian artists have brought pop folk music to an unusual venue
If chalga and art were members of the same family, they would be distant cousins that don't get on well and hardly speak to each other. Significantly, relations became strained not when chalga first appeared but when it became a lucrative industry.
There is not a single pop or rock singer in Bulgaria who can rival the big chalga stars in terms of concert proceeds, CD sales, fees and advertising contracts. The tension surfaced officially in the 1990s, when Communist-era pop icon Vasil Naydenov led a doomed assault on pop folk.
Not all artists choose to adopt the stance of defenders of good taste. Instead, they explore chalga as a phenomenon, and make it the subject of their art. The Temptation of Chalga exhibition has brought together 12 of them under the same roof. You will find it on the second floor of Sofia City Art Gallery until 30 May. The curators are Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva and Vessela Nozharova, in partnership with Altera and the support of Sofia City Council.
The exhibition includes some of the first attempts to give artistic meaning to chalga, such as Georgi Tushev's oil painting Kulik Pulling a Bus, painted in 1996.
The well-known photographers Boris Missirkov and Georgi Bogdanov feature with their New Mythology series from 2001, where they photographed the pop folk stars of the day in surreal environments.
Some of the exhibits feature multimedia. Ergin Chavushoglu searches for parallels between chalga culture, on the one hand, and black music and street culture, on the other.
Adelina Popnedeleva combines a chalgo-theque with the sound of a Viennese waltz.
Konstantin Bozhanov offers a container with a provocative relic: a hair from the beard of the "prophet" of Bulgarian chalga, Azis.
Alla Georgieva had already explored chalga with her BG Souvenir project (see Vagabond No.30), but has now created another series, Bulgarian Scenery, especially for the exhibition.
The new faces on today's stage appear in works such as the two oil portraits of chalga stars Galena and Andrea by Svetozara Alexandrova. The exhibition also shows a chalga timeline, researched by Ventsislav Dimov.
"Chalga is the mass culture that has permeated all levels of society, so it is essential to study and evaluate it," curator Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva says. "Translated into the language of modern art, it appears as something much more important and multifaceted than even its fans suppose. Yet, this exhibition is not a chalga museum nor a monument to it. It captures that moment of weakness when you give in to the temptation to get to know it closely from a different viewpoint."
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