The Neighbours: Forms of Trauma (1945-1989)
3.11 - 04.12. 2022


“The Neighbours” is a multi-site installation that engages silence and fragmentation surrounding memories of political violence in post-socialist Bulgaria. It is the outcome of 20 years of scholarly research and 8 years of collaboration. Through object, video and sound interventions, Julian Chehirian, Krasimira Butseva and Lilia Topouzova compose spaces for bearing witness to silenced trauma built upon 40 interviews conducted by the authors (2002-2022) with survivors of repression and forced labor. Inviting us to listen to their listening, they offer a space for attention to an unsettled forgetting.

The exhibition unfolds across two sites. The City Gallery exhibition draws on a purged archive, charting the historical coordinates of political repression and forced labor in Bulgaria through texts and three installations spanning literature, film and sound. At Benkovski st №40, the authors draw on their ethnographic work in survivors’ homes: three domestic spaces evoke the material and psychological spaces where interviews unfolded. Staged within them are fragments from oral histories, field recordings sonorized through domestic materiality, and video from two former camp sites, Belene and Lovech. The media conflux evokes the unstable boundaries between spaces of home and the psychologically proximate sites of violence.

In the 1990s in Bulgaria, testimonies emerged of systemic violence unfolding across a vast and previously unknown network of labor camps, where 40,000 – 50,000 Bulgarians were interned without trial or conviction. In tandem, agents of the previous regime mobilized the purge and destruction of 40% of the archive of State Security, effectively erasing the documentary existence of the camps. Working as scholars and artists, the creators of The Neighbours examine the consequences of this liquidation for individual and collective memory.


The Neighbors is accompanied by a program of discussions, artist talks, educational tours and a workshop, which will be announced later in October.



Julian Chehirian is an artist and a PhD candidate in the History of Science at Princeton University, as well as a Fellow in its Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities. In his practice-based research he develops installations in dialogue with archival and ethnographic research. These spaces stage entangled relationships between history, psychology and material culture. His dissertation project traces how experimental visual practitioners across the 20th century arts and sciences mobilized aesthetic inquiry towards a radical re-framing of what counts as knowledge. Previously a Fulbright researcher in Bulgaria, his exhibition “Excavating the Psyche” (Red House, Sofia, 2015) offered a survey of the history of psychotherapy during socialism. His scholarly writing appears in Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, and in edited collections for Columbia University Press, Bloomsbury, and the Center for Advanced Study Sofia.


Krasimira Butseva is a visual artist, researcher and educator. In her work, she investigates human rights violations, political violence, traumatic memory and official and unofficial histories in the context of Eastern Europe. She is a lecturer at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. In addition, she is the awardee of BAZA (2022), and has been an artist fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude (2021). Her work has been exhibited at Sofia History Museum, Sofia (2020); Seen Fifteen Gallery, London (2020); District Six Museum, Cape Town/South Africa (2019); Phoenix Art Space, Brighton/UK (2018); Four Corners Gallery London (2017) and Pingyao International Photography Festival, Pingyao/China (2016). Krasimira’s articles Vernacular Memorial Museums: Memory, Trauma and Healing in Post-Communist Bulgaria was recently published in the Museums & Social Issues Journal.

Lilia Topouzova is an Assistant Professor of History and Creative Nonfiction at the University of Toronto where she is also Director of the Professional Writing and Communication Program. She is a scholar and a documentary filmmaker whose interdisciplinary work explores the relationship between remembering and forgetting. Her academic research on the silenced trauma of the Bulgarian gulag appears in the American Historical Review, Gender & History, The Routledge Handbook of Memory and Place, and in the Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice. For her writing on scholarship as a critical media arts practice see, Journal of Visual Literacy.  She is the scriptwriter of the documentary films The Mosquito Problem & Other Stories (2007) and Saturnia (2012), which she also directed. Dr. Topouzova held fellowships at Leibniz-Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung – ZZF in Germany (2013), Brown University in the US (2014), York University in Canada (2015),the Center for Oral History and Digital Storytelling in Concordia University in Canada (2017), and at the Centre for Advanced Study in Sofia in Bulgaria (2022).  Her work has been supported by, among others, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canada Council for the Arts.