A life among three cultures

By Aneta Nedyalkova | CULTURE

Boriana Song describes living in the Golden Triangle of Beijing - Sofia - Paris. By Aneta Nedyalkova

Boriana Song, whose Chinese name for her friends in China is Xiaohong (Little Rainbow), is the daughter of Prof. Marin Varbanov, called “The Wizard of Textiles” - the first Bulgarian painter and teacher who combines architectural environments and textiles. She combines her career in applied arts with various initiatives to preserve the works and dreams of her parents.

Boriana, what do you mean when you say that your life takes place in the “Golden Triangle” Beijing-Sofia-Paris?

My parents met in China in the 50’s, studying together at the Chinese Academy of Arts. A love story worthy of a novel! It was the first marriage between a Chinese woman and a foreigner, resolved after my mother wrote a personal letter to Zhou Enlai, the President of the State Council. I was born in China, my brother in Bulgaria, and much of our youth was spent in Paris. Sometimes among many cultures one is lost, but for us the “Golden Triangle” is a common home in which three cultures coexist.

Growing up around your parents you met with many famous people, was it an inspiration?

Yes, my parents were a very charismatic couple. They met many interesting people around the world. After leaving Sofia for Paris, my father had an exhibition of his tapestries at the Odermatt Gallery.

The uniqueness of his works impressed Pierre Cardin, who became his collector. As a result of their meeting my mother became the representative and general manager of the Pierre Cardin brand for China. In 1983 she went on to make a joint venture with Pierre Cardin, creating a replica of the famous Parisian restaurant Maxim’s in Beijing. She was among the first to open China to the world. Until then, people wore colourless Mao clothes. My father knew Dechko Uzunov, he had painted a live model in front of the students at the Beijing Academy, a very great artist! I have pictures of my dad with the Master (Maystora) at my father’s first exhibition in Sofia, with works he brought from China my parents were the ones who opened doors to the world for me.

What is your participation in the creation of the iconic Maxim`s restaurant in Beijing?

The restaurant was first and foremost a meeting place for cultures and exchange of ideas. I participated in creating the whole atmosphere – I worked with French decorators, Japanese technology, some companies from China. At the time when China opened, many foreigners came and, of course, Maxim`s was a well-known brand. There we created unforgettable friendships.

Your mother played in Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor”. You were also part of the team, how did this happen?

To write the screenplay for the film, Bertolucci was studying for three years and was often coming to China. He likes the era around the beginning of the 20th century, Maxim`s is in this style - Art Nouveau. We met at the restaurant. Bertolucci told my mother that she looked like Empress Lung Yu and that he would offer her the role. My mother was laughing, but one day people came from his office and brought a contract. And I became part of the team that recreated the atmosphere of those years. I knew the age, I painted scenery ... working with Bertolucci was a lesson that cinema art is created by a team. His long- time script writer, Frenchwoman Suzanne Durrenberger, always said: “Cinema - this is the school of life.” You lead one of the first galleries of contemporary art in Beijing. Tell us about it. In Zhejiang, Hangzhou District, there are many wooden houses. Two Chinese entrepreneurs had transferred one of them to Beijing, packing the whole construction in glass, with the idea of creating a gallery of contemporary art. Knowing my artistic family, famous for our innovative creative spirit, in 1994, the owners invited me to become director of the gallery. These were interesting times, China was opening, many foreigners came. After two years I ended this commitment because my mother got sick and since she was the pillar in our family, I had to be there. After her passing, I fully committed myself to preserving the creative heritage left by my parents.

How do you view the idea of a relationship between all the Bulgarians in the world who are building businesses, creating and looking for new opportunities for their development? Can we be united in our aspirations?

We Bulgarians always feel nostalgia. My father is an example of this, and his view of the world for me is something important and sacred. I’ve spent only a small part of my life in Bulgaria, but something always draws me there, I meet Bulgarians everywhere, many compatriots visit me in China. The power of people-to-people contacts is huge. One of the founders of the famous auction house Sotheby’s once told me: “Many sacrifices are needed for art. In order for art to succeed, it needs many “parents”. Failure is an orphan.” I think this is true of success in all areas of creativity and business.