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Vera is an explorer in the photographic field and a curator. Self-made creative who is giving back to her community through free PEER to PEER talk sessions online.

Originally from Plovdiv, Bulgaria and currently living and creating in Portsmouth, UK.

Part of varies exhibition such as 👇👇

NIGHT Plovdiv Festival @nightplovdiv

Aspex Portsmouth @aspexportsmouth

Fabrica gallery @fabricagallery

Arts Council England @aceagrams

If I have to describe Vera I don't think I would be able to with a few words. So read for yourself what has to share on how to win a massive grand price for a project in the UK, how she became a visiting lecturer in a British university and what we can potentially call a formula for making it in the arts field.

Read on! It is worth it!


Text Edit: Maria Sopadzhieva

What do you do at the moment and what have you worked on so far?

I am an independent artist and curator.

I am currently a Visiting Lecturer in Photography at the University of Portsmouth (which is also where I did my BA and MA degrees in Photography). It feels very rewarding to go back to the university after a few years but this time as a teacher.

At the beginning of 2021, I worked for Aspex gallery ( @aspexportsmouth) on a project called PONToon, which was focused on up-skilling women between the ages of 18-35. Together with 5 other project assistants and a web developer we created an online exhibition showcasing the achievements of beneficiaries and successes of the PONToon project.

Besides this, I've been leading a Peer to Peer Feedback group since 2018. I hold monthly meetings providing a space for artists from all disciplines to share work in progress and receive constructive feedback. It's a great way to test new ideas on a friendly audience and get other people's opinions on your work. Plus it's a great place to connect with other artists and expand your network.

Open calls you have applied for so far? What do they bring to you and to your practice?

Open calls are a great way to give yourself external deadlines to work towards and they often end up helping me push my project and develop it further. I would definitely encourage artists to keep an eye for open calls (for exhibitions, publications, grants, residencies, etc.) and apply. The important thing is to do your research and tailor the opportunities suitable to your own practice and the topics you explore in your work. Also, try not to spend money on applications. There are plenty of free entry open calls with great awards. I think it’s ridiculous paying huge entry fees for open calls or competitions where you know you have a very low chance of getting chosen. Think carefully what the benefits of applying would be and make a decision whether it’s worth paying the price. If the fee covers printing costs for an exhibition, for example, it makes sense but if it’s only used to cover admin costs for the people looking through the applications for me that's not worth it. The people organizing these opportunities also benefit from showing your work so think of it from this perspective as well.

What do you do when you apply for open calls? Your advice to people who may want to apply? Specifically, about the grant, you have won.

Do your research. I think that’s key for anything so it applies for open calls as well. Find out who is organizing it, what are the entry requirements, is there an entry fee, what are the submission requirements (image size and file type, artist statement and bio length, other specific text they want), is there a specific application form you need to fill in or questions you need to answer? If it’s a funding application - do you need to present a budget and project plan as well as a motivational statement etc. Is there a theme you need to respond to or is it open for all types of work?

Every open call has its own specific rules so do the groundwork and find out these details. That would help you to decide whether it’s for you or not.

A few of the opportunities I got through applying for open calls are most recently the Fabrica In Between gallery open call in Brighton. They have a window display on the side of the Cathedral building of the gallery and they have a regular open call for artists to submit a single image to be displayed in the window.

Another one was winning the VID Foundation for Photography grant - mentorship award. This is the first year the VID Foundation is running the grant. They focus on photographers and visual storytellers from the Balkan region. This opportunity was sent to me by a friend and I immediately thought my work fits really well with the organization's values. It was a very detailed application which helped me structure my project and goals for developing it better. I am currently still working on creating new work as part of the mentorship.

And most recently I was awarded the “Developing your Creative Practice” grant from the Arts Council England to expand my practice further into socially engaged work with the Muslim community at heart. I am so excited about this and it feels like such a huge achievement to be awarded a grant by the Arts Council. There was a lot of hard work that went into the application process and if I have to trace it back it probably took me a year to actually decide to apply. I did a Money workshop with Natasha Caruana (founder of @workshowgrow) in 2020 and after that I had the idea about applying for this grant in my head, mulling it over for a year. I applied in May 2021 and got rejected the first time. It was really disheartening because I had put so much effort and energy into the application. So I decided to push through the rejection and apply again. I tweaked my application to make it stronger and sent it again. I’m so glad I did because I ended up getting the grant this time around!

Something I want to encourage anyone applying to open calls and grants to do is to keep pushing. All of these open call opportunities have judges which are very subjective (even if they do their best not to be). So if you get rejected don’t think your work is lacking because you don’t know who else submitted and what the inner workings of that process were. The way I think about rejections is - I know my work is strong and I believe it deserves to be supported and recognized because I am passionate about the topic I explore. So rejections don’t phase me that much anymore.

What do you think about Bulgaria and art/artists?

I'm primarily based in England for the majority of the year and having been stuck in the UK for 2 years because of the pandemic, I feel like I can’t speak about Bulgarian art with that much certainty but when I was back in September 2021 I was left with the impression that the Bulgarian art scene has developed a lot and seems to be thriving. There are so many excellent exhibitions, workshops and events happening nowadays that it's hard to keep up. It makes me happy to see that. Especially seeing young people and emerging talent getting involved.

Side hustle, interests - curation – what do you want to do here in Bulgaria or elsewhere?

Curating has been my passion even before I came to study in England (also probably before I really knew what the word curating meant). I took a gap year after finishing high school in Bulgaria and spent the year developing a photography website and I organized my first solo photography exhibition. It was a retrospective of images from the 9 years I spent singing at The Detska Kitka choir in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It was a fascinating exhibition because it combined photographs from 2006 to 2014 showing my journey with the Choir (tours, concerts, rehearsals, behind the scenes moments) but also interestingly it traced the development of my photography from the time I started as a keen amateur to taking it more seriously and deciding to study photography abroad. I organized the exhibition from scratch, fundraised some money for it, booked a venue, etc. I worked with the choirmaster who helped me through the process and we held a concert at the opening night of the exhibition. I've organized many exhibitions since but this one still holds a special place in my heart.

Another really important exhibition (or exhibitions, plural) was the first time I showed my project "With the Name of a Flower" in the UK and Bulgaria in 2019. The project looks at the forced name changes of the Muslim population in Bulgaria and the effects on the identity, collective memory and sense of belonging of the Muslim community. Showing it for the first time in Bulgaria during the NIGHT/Plovdiv Festival was a really powerful experience.

Curating is definitely something I want to do a lot more of now and in the future. I have several projects in mind which are marinating in my brain waiting for their time.


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