lest we forget

Lest we forget is a multimedia documentary project attempting to resurrect pieces of the lost Communist years in recent Bulgarian history, to present and preserve them for the future generations. The motivation behind this work is to spark the curiosity of young people, to make them ask questions about their country’s recent past, while there are still people with stories to tell. In this exhibition, the controversial period is seen through the eyes of two men who lived their prime years under the regime, but had profoundly different experiences of it. To this day, they both bear the marks that Communism has left upon them.

Velislav Makedonski (b. 1930) was arrested and put to trial at the age of 21, while serving his military duty. Having committed no crime, he was convicted to five years in prison simply because he belonged to a group of young people not agreeing with Communist ideas. On 25th May 1952 he was sent to Belene forced labour prison camp, where he served his full sentence of three years and eight months (two days of labour were counted as three days of prison) in extremely harsh conditions. 

He was released on 14th September 1955 and went on to a varied career, including 10 years as a choir singer. The years spent in the camp has left their mark. To this day, Velislav suffers from health problems related to the heavy labour and bad conditions on the island. He says that he has felt followed ever since he was released. Still, no one has been held responsible or charged for the illegal imprisonment of thousands of people in concentration camps such as Belene. 

Nikola Kolev (b. 1925) spent his youth in hard agricultural labour, only to find himself forced to move to the city to try and make a living for himself and his young family. In 1949, when he was 24 years old, he started work as a founder, and dedicated the rest of his professional life to foundry. Not long after he started, he was running his own crew and setting a benchmark for production in the factory and beyond. Recognition came in the form of various medals and awards. 

Nikola had never been politically involved, but in 1977 he had to be made a Party member overnight so that he could be awarded the highest commendation a worker could receive – Hero of the Socialist Labour. As a result of the hazardous working conditions in the foundry, today Nikola suffers from heavily reduced eyesight. After the fall of communism he and the thousands of other workers that built the infrastructure and industry of the country have fallen into oblivion.

The project consists of a series of silver-gelatin and C-type photographic prints, text panels, original archival documents and a two channel simultaneous video loop installation. Two modes of presentation are available:

For spaces where projection is possible, the video streams are projected side by side or on opposite walls. Prints, text panels and documents are presented in a 16″ x 20″ archival box on a table with an overhead lamp. The presentation is designed to invoke the feeling of digging through an archive. This setup was used to exhibit the work in group shows in Portsmouth and London, UK in 2011.

The second, more traditional mode of presentation features the images, text panels and documents as 30″ x 40″ unframed mounted prints. It was used in the solo exhibition of the project in Sofia, BG in 2012. Projection was not viable due to location constraints, thus the videos were looped on two identical LCD panels positioned along one side of the gallery.