First attempt:

What can I see in this photograph in front of me? What kind of visual cues are there?

The photograph is a depiction of a row of cars extending outside its frame. From the authentic and similar design of the vehicles, it can be concluded that these are old Moskvitch passenger cars used mainly during the communist regime in Bulgaria. Loaded on car roofs and wrapped in plastic, there are utilities, carpets, mattresses, and couches. One can observe the various luggage bags inside different cars. Did these people get ready to leave for a new town, a new country or a new continent? Is it a long trip that they have chosen to go on? The two couples outside of their cars are looking at different perspectives. The look on their faces is not giving away any clues as to whether they are happy or sad, excited or uncertain, enthusiastic or petrified. Although we may not know from the picture what they are waiting for, one thing is sure - they have been here for a while.  The woman seated in the corner of the photograph is wearing a headscarf - an attire which is worn by Muslim women - while the other one does not. How can we make any assumption about  their religion, ethnicity or nationality?. One may argue that it is quite problematic to make such an assumption about women's attire. In conclusion, this photograph is too ambiguous, too non-linear, too confusing even to entangle any inscription of an idea that the photographer wanted to present. By studying the studium and the intentions of the photographer, spectators are faced with the uncertainty of what the image recorded as an idea. The lack of the caption adds to the fact that one cannot identify a precise inscribed message; on the contrary, what is seen in the photograph is questioning whether any inscription is truthful or extensive. However, because one cannot come to a definitive conclusion of what took place while encountering this photograph, the possibility of engaging with the contested histories within the image emerges.

Second Attempt:

What if I look at this photograph again? Will I see something I haven’t noticed yet?

This photo does not function as a concealment of the hidden atrocity, but as an act of documentation of people yet to be made refugees. By recognizing the photographed subject’s entry to the visual citizenry, the spectator is able to challenge the sovereign state’s governmentality . The events depicted in the photograph are not just a representation of the victimization of Bulgarian Turks. The non-governmental gaze disputes the claim of sovereignty of the state. By unseeing the photograph, by spectating in its hidden messages, the spectator can decide not to be a participant to the abolishment perpetrator in abolishing people’s citizenship. By not looking at the image just for the victimization of the photographed subjects, one can engage in a present dialogue between themselves and the photographed subject that seeks a different approach to looking. Civic spectatorship requires challenging what governmental institutions would endeavor to impose on the field of vision regarding its body politics and its treatment of citizenship as property/a right handed out by the regime... By adjudging the photograph not as an image of stateless people, but a picture of people being made stateless, the presence of the document is enabled. Its incomplete history allows the possibility of writing a potential history that does not succumb to iconization. Furthermore, the disaster that has befallen them is not a self-made disaster, a decision made by this group, but a regime-made disaster that is enforced onto them. This image does not just account to an archival process that uses it as a product of a thing which was there, but as an ongoing event of a participatory archiving act that involves us in the encounter. By respecting the participation of the photographed subjects, the spectator is enabling their right to still have things to reveal, to be able to acknowledge what happened before and after the photograph was taken and to spectate the imposed unseeability.

Third attempt:

Does this photograph have any sonic frequencies?

Due to the fact that images during the communist era were created following specific rules and regulations, to listen to their sound would be impossible for human beings.  However, that does not mean that this image is mute or inaudible. Due to the radical archival practice, this image is encountered outside of the regulated regimes of social and geographical mobility (such as institutional archives), which enables the spectator to hear its lowest frequencies. When listening to this image, one does not only register a displacement of a particular ethnic group, but also registers protest chants, demands for equality and humming for a better future. As Tina Campt would put it, one can hear the sound of diasporic aspiration. Even in these circumstances, the subjects depicted are refusing to be assimilated or to be victimized. The imposing of this exodus resulted from the fact that the regime did not succeed in creating a homogenous national identity. The resistance of Bulgarian Turks, the protests they organized, the illegal political organizations they created, the outreach to Western countries they initiated forced the Bulgarian state to implement a different approach. However, by abiding to the max exodus, the Bulgarian Turks were refusing to remain neither in the periphery nor in the metropole. Contrary to what one may argue, this image is not just a depiction of a disaster from the point of view of the victims. In this image the quotidian practice of refusal is evident. By choosing to resist the assimilatory policies of the Bulgarian state and subsequently to be dislocated, the Bulgarian Turkish community was living the future they aspired to – demanding a civic society that would value their right of self-determination, while understanding the daily basis of discrimination they face were/are facing. They did not aspire to a future too risky to wait for. They did not wait for the Bulgarian state to strip them of their right to be governed entirely. By living a future which simultaneously included a disposability disposition? and a desire to matter, they were headed to Turkey.

Bayr(y)am Mustafa Bayr(y)amali is a London based Bulgarian Turkish visual researcher, journalist, facilitator and art activist born in 1997. Through his work, he explores the themes of memory, reconciliation and participation through photography and in gallery context. As a child of Bulgarian Turks who experienced ethnic cleansing during the communist regime in Bulgaria, his practice deals with issues of new world borders, il/legal identities and intergenerational trauma. In his recent practice challenges Bayr(y)am challenges the imperial condition of Western art galleries and museums through advocacy and boycott.

© History in Between, 2021This project is part of the Cultural Calendar of Sofia, Ministry of Culture and Sofia History Museum.


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„История помежду“ ("Проект за музейни намеси в РИМ, София") е съвместен проект между Фондация „Изкуство – Дела и Документи“ и Регионален исторически музей, София, подкрепен Календар на културните събития на Столична Община.

History in Between (Project for interventions in the Museum, Sofia) is a collaboration between the Art Foundation - Affairs and Documents, and the Regional History Museum of Sofia. It is supported by the Calendar of Cultural Events of Sofia City.