With the Name of a Flower

multi-disciplinary project, 2017 - 2019

This multi-media project investigates the forced name changes of the Bulgarian Muslim population (from Muslim to Slavic names) during the “Revival Process” in Bulgaria (1912-1989). The project takes into consideration the historical and political context of the 500 years long Ottoman Rule over Bulgaria (1396-1878), the years after the Liberation to present day.

A new name entails a new sense of identity. I am interested in how these historical events have affected the cultural and national identity of these people and their descendants, how these have been preserved or purposefully omitted from their family narrative. As a descendant myself, I feel it is my duty to unearth and share the stories of these people, who have been repressed and kept silent for a long time. The purpose of this project is to unearth and preserve parts of Bulgarian history and collective memory, which might otherwise be forgotten with time.

My exploration of the topic includes a multi-channel sound installation questioning the significance of the name in maintaining a sense of identity and self; a video installation touching upon the religious aspects of traditions; a performance piece and others.

Vera

photographic series, 2017

Vera was the name of my paternal grandmother. I was named after her, however, she was called Ferde before I was born. A name she was forced to renounce and never use again. In several of the self-portraits in this photographic series, I am wearing a traditional dress that belonged to her in an attempt to commemorate the lives of countless people who were forced to change their names and experienced violence and trauma.

Black Board

performance video, 16:24 min, 2018

During my interviews with relatives, I kept record of their old Muslim names. To me, it was important to create work using the names. Each name represents a person whose life was affected by the state-enforced renaming policies. In this performance video I am writing a selection of the Muslim names which belonged to my relatives. I then erase these names with my bare hands and replace them with the Bulgarian state-approved names these people had to accept, recreating the forcible nature of the process.

Still from the performance video "Black Board", 2018

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Erased, 2018

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A name change request form

1970s, State Archive - Smolyan, 2019

This is a blank request form which people were required to fill in in order to change their Muslim names. It reads “Please, can I have my name changed from ... to ...”. How cruel and ironic to make someone “ask” for their name to be changed when they don’t want to change it in the first place. In the State Archive I discovered several folders with hand-written name change requests dating from 1971. Finding the forms of several relatives there was a very surreal experience. It made me wonder, if someone unaware of the historical context were to find these request forms, would they think the name changes were voluntary?

The Names Notebook

1970s, State Archive - Smolyan, Bulgaria, 2019

This is a notebook which was used to record people’s names during one of the renaming campaigns in the 1970s. On the left page are written the Muslim names of people. On the right are their new state-approved Bulgarian names. By including this record in the exhibition I want to draw attention to the magnitude of these renaming policies. This is only one notebook from one village. Imagine how many others there were country-wide throughout the years. The markings on the pages give clues to the turbulent past.

Against Evil

performance video, 2:22 min, 2019

My maternal grandmother is the only person, besides me, who appears in my work (with her permission). In this video, she is performing a ritual which aims to take the bad energies (“evil eye”) away from a person and make them feel better physically and mentally. In Bulgaria we call it Baene and both Muslim and Christian Bulgarians have a version of it. However, it stems from ancient pagan traditions and many other religions and cultures have a similar tradition. I asked my grandmother to perform this ritual towards the camera with the idea that by doing so she could ease the pain and sorrow inflicted on Muslim people in the past.

Still from the video "Against Evil", 2019

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Whisper

multi-channel sound installation, 2019

The whispers of names forsaken to be forgotten. Dared to be uttered only in family circles and behind closed doors. You can hear the Muslim names of my relatives whispered by several family members. The sound is coming from four speakers and each one is covered by a traditional Bulgarian head scarf. The difference in the heights of the plinths alludes to the conflicting symbolism of these headscarves. They are used proudly as part of the traditional Bulgarian folk dress, but were forbidden to be worn as a religious headcover.

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