Artist makes neon female busts for a city with no monuments to women

The caption of the statue reads, "The first monument of a woman in Sofia"
Image: mihail novakov

There is not a single monument dedicated to a female historical figures in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia.

Like most cities, Sofia is dotted with rusty monuments of warriors, political, religious and literary figures. They’ve become so ornamental, they are rarely noticed. Every single one of them is male. \_()_/

An impromptu artistic intervention is trying to address that.

Seven brightly coloured busts with female faces have been erected on temporary pedestals around the city in an attempt to break that stigma and start a conversation with a pop of colour.

Each bust is a self-portrait of artist Irina Tomova Erka

Image: Mihail novakov

The temporary installation is part of a campaign called “Monumental Women” by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, in partnership with Fine Acts, and with the support of Tribal Worldwide Sofia.

“Monumental Women” is an initiative that seeks to change the perception that suggests only male figures can be immortalized through public monuments.

This installation wants to raise questions about the representation of gender in cities – especially from generations passed.

Svetla Baeva, Campaign Director at the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, says the lack of monuments celebrating women in the public space contributes to the stereotype that there are no women who have made worthwhile contributions to society.

Artist Erka with her self-portrait underarm in Sofia’s Park Kristal


Artist Irina Tomova-Erka, says she chose to publicly stand behind the initiative by using her own portrait on all the busts, as a symbol of countless other women in Sofia and Bulgaria.

The busts were secretly installed across the city in the early morning of March 22. Each bust has a plaque reading, “The first monument of a woman in Sofia.”

Students exiting the main building of the University of Sofia (named after a male saint)


The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reckons the busts have already had an impact.

It says passers are interacting with the statues and appear shocked to learn that there are no monuments dedicated to female individuals in the city.

Others didn’t really appreciate the sentiment, suggesting that busts of national heroes should be prioritized before busts of women.

In front of the National Theater (named after famed male author, Ivan Vazov).


An close-up view of one of the seven sculptures

Image: Raya raeva

But it’s important to question the physical make up of your surroundings.

Think about where you live what monument springs to mind? Think about all the other male-centered pieces of city life that go unnoticed. Like, for example, sexist pedestrian traffic lights.

One small bust of a woman…

Image: Mihail Novakov

The organizers of the installation in Sofia have now called upon local authorities to create a plan to construct permanent monuments of women figures from Bulgarian history by 2018.

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