Mythologems of the Heroic

4/05/2017 - 18/05/2018

The Museum of Socialist Art presents, in a series of exhibitions on a topically thematic principle, the art of the Socialist period. Following ‘The Image of the Leader’, the attention of the public is directed to the image of the anti-fascist hero. The exhibition includes 60 works of painting and graphic art by Iliya Petrov, Stoyan Venev, Stoyan Sotirov, Nenko Balkanski, Nikola Mirchev, Marko Behar, Hristo Neykov, and Todor Panayotov, among others.
For several years following 9 September 1944 and as a result of the political, economic, and social change that occurred in Bulgaria, propaganda functions were imposed on art. One of the most important themes in art became that of the revolutionary, also known as the historico-revolutionary, historico-heroic, etc. It reproduced and glorified significant facts and events from the activities of the leftist progressive forces in Bulgarian society, including the September Uprising of 1923, the underground anti-fascist struggle, the partisan movement, and the events surrounding 9 September 1944.

‘The Hero’ is a specific imagerial category and one of the central mythologems in the art of Socialism, charged with the task of creating idealistic objects of worship and role models. The range of values includes moral and ethical categories such as bravery, determination, self-sacrifice, self-denial, and heroism in the name of the ideal of freedom.
A careful and in-depth perusal of the works in this exhibition reveals the political climate of the times in which they were created. During the period of Stalin’s Personality Cult, compositions of partisan thematics and portraits of figures of the revolutionary movement were created, where the emphasis was placed on the externally illustrative side of events and personalities. The unification of artistic method led to a blurring of personal artistic style and a mass reproduction of ‘paintings-clichés’ with predefined ideological content and stylistically plastic frameworks.

Following the April Plenum of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1956, Bulgarian art gradually liberated itself from the restrictive dogmas of Socialist Realism. The rehabilitation of the personal civic and creative position and the return to the essential dimensions of the artistic process also found expression in the interpretation of the revolutionary theme. It was during this period that the most significant exemplars were created, marking some of the highest achievements in Bulgarian art.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the revolutionary heroic theme was placed on the personal scale of plastic and philosophical values in an effort to be perused from the position of contemporaneity and with hindsight. The greater the distance of each next generation, the more the focus of attention shifted from the concrete historical fact to the idea of its intransient and universal human meaning.

The works on display reveal the rich spectrum of the emotionally psychological states in which the heroic theme manifests itself, whether in a poetic, romantic, or pathetic light. Its dynamic over the years has been achieved from the concretely individual in the historical personality, through the collective type of the hero fighter, to the allegorically symbolic generalisations of the heroic as a whole, and the revelation of its psychological essence.
A bilingual catalogue will be published.

Nikolai Ushtavaliiski