The beautiful Banishte village is located 40 km north-west from the town of Pernik in a picturesque valley near Erul Mountain. This is an area with a few mountain springs that lead to the beginning of Svetlya River.
The local population has organized the masquerade games every year for many years. They do it with utmost passion and a lot of love for this tradition. The artist Sasho Evtimov says about them:
“I am an urban person with no native village, so I saw these games for the first time after I married my wife. Banishte is her native village. They took my breath away, I was so amazed. They awoke new feelings in me, creating a love for our traditions and the ability to see how beautiful they are. This new point of view completely changed my work as an artist. Ever since that moment, I have had a refreshed outlook towards art and life.
The participants in the masquerade games start to prepare their masks in the autumn. Every person makes their own mask and keeps them secret, so they will be able to surprise the others later. Every one of them creates a real masterpiece using traditional methods. They all have different ideas, and this is the reason why all the masks are so unique. You cannot see two equal masks, because every mask represents its creator. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare a mask, so every person leaves a piece of their soul in their mask. What about the bells… they do not jingle, they sing, and they really do so beautifully.
One of my relatives, an old woman, told me that many years ago the costumes in Banishte village were made with corn leaves. She remembers the leaves and how difficult it was to sew all these leaves to the costume. About 30 years ago, the participants in the masquerade group restarted putting leaves on the costumes. They are so unique and so different from the others, and yet they follow the tradition.
The oldest members of the group say they did not have “bride and groom” as part of the masquerade group in the past. I do not know if this is true, but I am sure they would go around the whole village and enter every house to wish all the people luck and prosperity. The households were so happy to invite the group into their homes and give them a lot of presents–meat, beans, vegetables and much more. Nowadays, it is still the same, but many of the houses are empty, the residents have left the village to live in the big cities.
I have not missed Surova since the first time I observed the tradition, not even once. Every time I am so amazed and wonder how this is possible. The members of the group want to do a Mask Museum in the center of the village. Everybody will help to do it because we want to keep the beauty of the tradition alive not only in January but throughout the entire year.
Many years ago, with two other artists – Philip Sedevchev, Georgy Angelov and I created the first Masquerade exhibition in the National Art gallery. It was so interesting and now many local artists’ work is inspired by the masquerade games. There are so many artworks – drawings, illustrations, paintings… so we can put them in every art gallery”.
Recorded in 2019