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Staro Zhelezare: The small Bulgarian town transformed into a hub for political street art

Street art depicts world leaders, cartoon characters and cultural icons in Bulgarian village
Street art depicts world leaders, cartoon characters and cultural icons in Bulgarian village Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Theo FarrantAP
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Inhabited by around 400 residents, Staro Zhelezare has undergone an enchanting transformation - where modest homes, once cloaked in silence, now stand adorned with an eclectic array of famous faces.

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In the heartland of Bulgaria lies the unassuming village of Staro Zhelezare, which has quietly evolved into an unexpected epicentre of street art, merging the worlds of reality and imagination. 

This charming town has undergone a transformative journey, as its once-muted walls now stand adorned with vibrant murals depicting both esteemed global leaders and beloved fictional characters.

If you take a stroll through Staro Zhelezare, you who will find yourself surrounded by figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Cuba's Fidel Castro, drawing alongside cartoon characters from the Simpsons and Kung Fu Panda. 

The Beatles share a wall with a local resident and the US President Joe Biden pops up amongst an artwork inspired by pop artist Andy Warhol's Pink Cows.

Each summer, artists arrive in the sleepy neighbourhood to create new paintings inspired by global news and culture, from both the past and present.

The project is organised by the Polish-Bulgarian artistic family Katarzyna and Ventsislav Piryankov, with the help of students of theirs from Poznan in Poland.

Putting Staro Zhelezare on the cultural map

AP Photo
Image shows a mural in the town of Staro Zhelezare, depicting Marge and Homer Simpson.AP Photo

Gary Cattell, an aspiring artist among them, applauds this initiative as a refreshing departure from the past. 

“I think Ventsi (Ventsislav Piryankov) has come up with a great idea here, to do something different in the village. And so for us as art students, we come here, we learn something, and we've got walls to paint on, and the village then has something that generates people coming into the village," he says. 

Cattell adds, "Hopefully this will help the village survive and generate interest in people coming here." 

Another art student, Karolina Koslewska, is working on a mural of the character 'The Little Prince'.

She says the project is good way to reflect on events in nearby Ukraine.

“For artists art is the great way to express their feelings, emotions, with the war especially. It’s a great way to express the frustration that we have inside about the meaningless war going on right now.”

AP Photo
Image shows a mural depicting Donald Trump in the town Staro ZhelezareAP Photo
AP Photo
Image shows a building covered in various murals in the town of Staro ZhelezareAP Photo

Artist and curator, Katarzyna Piryankov says her family wanted to show the idea of a globalised world, where a granny from a Bulgarian village can sit next to a superpower leader.

“A lot of people here in the village and other villages, they go out of their homes, sit on benches in the afternoon and wait for somebody what passes by and have some small chat," she says.

"And we decided also with the project to invite some important people from the world of politics, culture, some celebrities to come here and to sit on these benches, painted of course, symbolically coming."

There are around 400 residents in this village. Now they share at least the outsides of their homes with famous faces from the real and fictional worlds.

Check out the video above for a look around the Bulgarian street art village.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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