Bulgarian Cartoons, 1944–1989

Vernissage on Thursday, 2 November, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The exhibition presents some 150 Bulgarian cartoons from the collection of the National Gallery. The artists include Iliya Beshkov, Alexander Zhendov, Boris Angelushev, Stoyan Venev, Boris Dimovski, Donyo Donev, Asen Grozev, Georgi Anastasov, Tsvetan Tsekov – Karandash, Georgi Chaushov, and Stefan Despodov.

This is an attempt to reconstruct the cartoon genre under the conditions of the totalitarian system of management of the political, social, and cultural life in Bulgaria between 1944 and 1989.

The cartoon’s place was in the newspaper. The majority of the exhibited cartoons had appeared on the pages of the Shturmovak [Storm Trooper] weekly and the Chasovoy [Sentry] front-line paper—a specialised publication for the Bulgarian army fighting the Nazis on the battlefronts of Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Austria. In 1946, the first issue of the weekly humorous newspaper, Starshel [Hornet], came out, its title having since become a byword for, and the main tribune of, Bulgarian cartoon art.

The comic, as an aesthetic and ethical category, has long since become a powerful tool for influence, propaganda, and the imposition of ideas and ideologies. Totalitarian societies are adept at exploiting and turning into a weapon this unique ability of the human being—to laugh. Under the conditions of the Cold War, the main subject of satire was the political and economic doctrine of the Western world. Themes on the politics of the hegemonic Party were absolutely taboo. The State was subjected to criticism down to the lowest administrative levels—the clerks working in public services. Negative phenomena—bureaucracy, poor customer service, inefficiency and low quality of production, and the formal attitude to work—became the target of cartoonists.

From today’s point of view, it is difficult to understand their meaning or adjust to their frequency without being familiar with the history and essence of the times in which they were created. And conversely—it is the very art of these cartoons that gives us an opportunity to reconstruct the not-so-distant past, to feel the visible and invisible dividing lines between these two worlds and, most importantly, to define for ourselves the psychogram of an epoch.