Smoke. Tobacco Stories - official opening exhibition of Plovdiv 2019

‘Smoke. Tobacco Stories’ (11 January - 28 March 2019) is an exhibition produced especially for the opening of Plovdiv – European Capital of Culture 2019 and dedicated to Tobacco City, one of ECOC’s flagship projects.

The exposition features archives, photography, video, films, literature and art works by most renowned Bulgarian artists that explore the history of Plovdiv through the tobacco industry. The Tobacco City of Plovdiv represents a lively node of storylines that entangle and distract. If we follow them, they will tell us not only about the centuries-old identity of the city, but also about all the stories closely related to it. Tobacco is an unusual prism through which citizens and visitors of Plovdiv can view from a new angle the great tale of the place of Southeastern Europe in the world. This story is almost untouched by clichés, because tobacco is part of Bulgaria’s real, not symbolic capital, as opposed to the rose oil or the wheat stalks present in the coat of arms.

Tobacco, the traditional livelihood that entered Bulgarian territories in the 17th century, started as a regional, Oriental product. It went on to grow into the driving force of rapid economic development of the young Bulgarian state, utterly transforming its cities.

Tobacco was the background on which urban life was taking shape and modernised. The tobacco industry turned the then countryfolk into city dwellers, offering them work at tobacco warehouses and cigarette factories – a process that later engulfed the Bulgarian refugees from Aegean Thrace after the string of wars between 1912 and 1918.

Peering through the gauze of cigarette smoke, one can see the onset of emancipation and feminization, the socio-cultural processes that consumed Bulgarian women at the turn of the 20th century, and follow the birth of entire strata in Bulgarian society and the social growth of others. Smoke was a constant companion: It was the protagonist in the trenches during the wars and at cafes where writers, artists and others were splitting hairs over intellectual subtleties. Tobacco was the permanent image in cinema but also in the years of cinema's intellectual rebellion, and has remained perhaps the only truly convertible means of exchange in each epoch outside Bulgaria.

Immersing themselves in the story, visitors will be able to hear the words of the tobacco merchants Vasil Kudoglu and Doncho Palaveev; the expert Rusi Genev; tobacco workers during audits conducted by Nikola Gospodinov; cooperative members and bank inspectors; temperance societies and the doctors whom tobacco merchants were fond of quoting. The guests will be able to see original videos from the Balkan War, a fire drill at the Tomasyan factory, and a tasting of tobacco in front of foreign clients.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically and thematically, starting from the National Revival period and the first years after Bulgaria's liberation in 1878. It then follows every transformation of society through its connection with tobacco, wars, protests, the Process of Rebirth in the 1980s, up to the present day as depicted in the works of Bulgaria's most prominent contemporary artists.

Check the accompanying programme of 'SMOKE. Tobacco Stories' HERE.

  • The topic of the first meeting and talk on 23 February 2019 was IMAGE, HISTORY, PRESENTATION. What is the visual language of the history and how long forgotten historical facts could evoke thoughts and discussion for the life nowadays?
    Participants: Dr. Boris Stoyanov (lecturer in history, author of texts in the SMOKE exhibition), Dr. Katerina Gadjeva (history and theory of the photography), Prof. Nikolay MIhaylov (journalism and media) and Dimitar Stoyanovich (historian).
    Moderators: Vesela Nojarova (curator of the exhibition) /Stanislava Grueva (historian).
    Watch the video (in Bulgarian) from the discussion here: 
  • The second meeting on 16 March was with topic ‘IS THERE A FUTURE IN THE TOBACCO HЕRITAGE OF BULGARIA?’. Participants were Prof. Valentin Kitanov (South-West University, Blagoevgrad), Krasimira Uzunova (Regional History Museum, Haskovo), Atanas Kendev (Civil Organization ‘Asen's Fortress’), Doctor Vidin Sukarev (Regional History Museum Plovdiv). Moderators: Vesela Nojarova (curator of the exhibition) /Stanislava Grueva (historian).
    Watch video from the discussion (in Bulgarian) here:
  • WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE BULGARIAN TOBACCO INDUSTRY? – that was the topic of the third event on 23 March as part of the accompanying programme of the exhibition ‘Smoke. Tobacco Stories.’
    Participants were: Prof. Christo Bozukov (Institute of Tobacco and Tobacco Products Plovdiv), Thomir Bezlov (Center for the Study of Democracy), Petya Vladimirova (journalist from newspaper ‘Dnevnik’). Moderator: Vesela Nozharova.
    Watch the video from the meeting (in Bulgarian)here:
  • On 28 March was the meeting and talk with the collector Dimitar Georgiev from the city of Silistra. In the exhibition Dimitar Georgiev shows part of his collection of cigarette boxes, that reveals the history of the tobacco industry in Bulgaria from 1900 to 1989.

The exhibition is realized on the idea of Svetlana Kuyumdzhieva as a production of ‘Plovdiv 2019’. The authors of the concept and the historical study are Stanislava Grueva, Boris Stoyanov, Mihail Gruev. Curator is Vessela Nozharova, stage designer: Dimitar Vodenicharov, designer: Kalina Dimitrova, technical implementation: Kalin Serapionov.

Collaborating institutions: State Archives Sofia; State Archives Pleven; Ivan Vazov National Library – Plovdiv; National Museum of Military History Sofia; National Museum of History - Sofia; National Museum of Literature (Dimitar Dimov House Museum); National Museum of Technology - Sofia; National Film Archives; Regional Museum of Ethnology - Plovdiv; Regional Museum of History - Plovdiv; the museums of history in Asenovgrad, Blagoevgrad, Smolyan and Haskovo; Plovdiv City Art Gallery; Sofia City Art Gallery; the Lost Bulgaria website; Bulgarian National Television Archives; Stanimashka Fotografchiinitsa Citizen Group; Byalo More Illustration.
Consultants: Dr Mihail Gruev and Dr Boris Stoyanov.

Details about the opening of the exhibition in our facebook page - HERE, as well as on the Tobacco City

Full gallery of all 4 rooms:

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