If walls could talk…

Sofia Graffiti Tour translates the language of street art

Written by Istvan Bus, edited by Mila Boshnakova, photos by Sofia Graffiti Tour

Beware! Graffiti and street art are everywhere, from the tops of buildings to the sidewalks below.

However, we need to train our eyes to see and learn their stories, in order to appreciate them- this is what the Sofia Graffiti Tour does. One of their tour guides, Tsvetan, is here to equip us with this knowledge.

“Sofia Graffiti Tour started in 2011 to show graffiti and street art in Sofia. The idea came from a discussion between me and a friend who had visited one such tour in Latin America, and said how cool it was. Since then, we have greeted thousands of guests, presenting the most spectacular examples in the capital. We aim to show what graffiti is, and we wish to promote Bulgarian street art,” explains Tsvetan.

But what is graffiti, and what unique street art does Bulgaria have to offer?

Tsvetan explains: “Graffiti is one of the artistic expressions created in America, along with street art, which stems from graffiti. Both evolved together until they split into separate genres; a bit like in music with rock 'n roll and all the related styles that sprang from it. Street art often applies materials other than paint, and frequently displays pictures and images.

Another genre is sgraffito, which emerged in the ‘70s in Sofia, Plovdiv, and most urban cities across Bulgaria. These are murals made of mosaics or plaster on the walls. Apart from the capital, both Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo are rich in sgraffitos. Also, in Pernik, there is a magnificent one that displays Yuri Gagarin on the boulevard that carries his name. Although it emerged during socialism, most sgraffitos have nothing to do with propaganda.”

Even though the first American-style graffiti appeared in Bulgaria after the fall of socialism, it did not become widespread until after the turn of the millennium.

But what is the reason for graffiti gaining popularity so much time after its initial appearance?

According to Tsvetan, “the explanation is simple and related to spraypaint. Until 2003, graffiti cans in Bulgaria were almost non-existent or hard to find. The first stores that sold spraypaint opened in 2003. All of a sudden, the materials became much more accessible.

Another reason is the internet, which has influenced street art. Earlier, the internet was accessible via modem, and it took an hour or two to download a picture. Both these circumstances helped graffiti to blossom.“

However, street art sometimes does not even need paint: “Next to Shishman street, there is a cake painted on the wall, and the bricks are the layers of the cake,” says Tsvetan of one of his favourite pieces of street art.

And what is Sofia Graffiti Tour’s motivation?

Tsvetan believes that “people discover the city from a different perspective. The locals tend to walk these streets without noticing what their surroundings have to say to them. The most rewarding thing for me is when Bulgarians, people who live in Sofia, discover the city and change how they look at the walls they pass by each day.”

However, graffiti remains a grey area; many people do not like it, so they paint over the artwork. Therefore, drawings tend to appear and vanish. So let’s see the best ones as long as we can!

Join one of Sofia Graffiti Tour’s events on Facebook to learn where the best graffiti in Sofia is, and check out the complete conversation in Bulgarian, episode “(Не) рисувай дявола на стената – графити и стрийт арт.”

And if you would like to learn more about street art in Sofia and the most famous Bulgarian graffiti artists, read our article How street art can make a change in our post-soviet style Sofia.

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