Pop-up sculptures reclaim public space for women in Sofia / by Svetla Baeva

Art intervention boosts campaign for first monument honouring historic women

On Wednesday morning Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, woke up to a surprise. Seven new sculptures have popped up across the city center as a result of an art intervention protesting the lack of women’s monuments in the city.

MONUMENT #1 is a sculpture series by the Bulgarian artist and designer Irina Tomova / Erka, which seeks to raise awareness about the lack of monuments honouring notable women in Sofia, Bulgaria - a EU member state. According to official data from the Sofia municipality, there are no monuments of real women in the city, and less than 6% of all memorials (most of which plaques) are dedicated to women. Furthermore, none of Sofia's existing memorials commemorate events important for the women's rights movement at the beginning of the 20th century.

The brightly-coloured sculptures, a portrait of the artist, were placed at some of the most central locations across Sofia, during a secret early-morning action on Wednesday, March 22.

“The key point of the intervention is to reclaim public space. Public space, much like history,  belongs to women too - this is why we want to assert our rightful place. In Bulgaria’s past there are many incredible, inspiring women, but their accomplishments are de facto erased from public memory”, says Erka.

“The sculptures are a portrait of me, as I wanted to take a strong personal, public stance as a contemporary woman and artist, and say - enough. However, they are also anonymous, as they do not bear my name. They are only marked by a sign “The first monument of a woman in Sofia”. In these sculptures I am every woman. With this work, I want to give women what they are entitled to, but have been denied for decades - a place, visibility and recognition”, says the artist.

The art intervention took place in collaboration with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the country’s leading human rights group, in partnership with the international organisation for socially engaged art Fine Acts, and with the support of the ad agency Tribal Worldwide Sofia.

“The lack of monuments, honouring historic women, enhances the wrong perception that women have no valuable accomplishments or that they have not contributed to the development of society”, says Svetla Baeva, Campaign Director at the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.

The seven sculptures are to be exhibited at a prominent Sofia gallery in April, and later auctioned. All proceeds will go towards funding the placing of the first monument dedicated to a real woman in Sofia.  

Citizens are invited to sign a petition, addressed to the Sofia municipality, demanding the adoption of a strategy for closing the gender gap in public sculpture in the city, as well as advocating for the erection of the first monument of a woman in 2018. Hundreds have already supported the call to honor women who have contributed to development of the city and country. What is more, an ongoing poll is collecting information on the public’s favourite for the first monument.

The problem with women-free public space is not reserved to Bulgaria.

UK’s Invisible Women campaign aims to challenge the staggering inequality in numbers of civic statues of women and men.

An edict passed by the Kreuzberg district in Berlin, Germany, requires that streets and public places be named for women until parity is reached with men, part of a longstanding debate over official efforts to undo entrenched gender roles in German society.

A recent campaign in New York protests the fact that presently there are no statues honoring real women in Central Park. Women are only represented in the park by statues of Alice in Wonderland or Mother Goose, as well as by angels, nymphs and allegorical figures. The campaign advocates placing a statue of women’s rights pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the park.