Kremena is a London-based illustrator-as-historian, lecturer, and PhD researcher specialising in visualising history.
She uses a mixture of creative traditional and digital methods to bring to light marginalised, hidden, and sidelined histories in the museum and heritage sectors.
Many of Kremena's projects and commissions are socially engaged and involve collaborating with the public to explore history, culture and heritage.
Where is home for you?
I'm not from England, I'm from Bulgaria, but if I say London and my mum reads it probably she will get rather upset!
I've lived half of my life here – my most creative, most productive years have been in England. So it has to be London. And then of course I'm in-between Bulgarian, European and a Londoner.
What's your earliest memory of home?
With my grandparents, in a village, with animals, farming and nature. I lived in a town with my parents, in an apartment – in my view home relates to a house of some sort, not a block of flats.
So my earliest memory is being with my grandparents in the village and just being with nature, animals, gardens, playing everywhere, rivers.
What one thing would you bring with you if you had to move today and why?
I like a lot of stuff around me, when I see an empty space it actually irritates me!
So, my partner I would have to take with me…I cannot possibly take all the things I have and I can't choose between all of them, but I would have to take him because I actually need him.
What's your getting home ritual?
I prefer visiting people rather than the other way round. But, taking shoes off definitely the first thing. Washing hands immediately, into the bathroom changing the clothes and taking a shower – lots of showering.
My Bulgarian friends, sometimes when I would visit them, they would joke – you've been here for three days, we will have to send you the water bill!
How do you make people feel welcome in your home?
Go down memory lane: I take out albums with photos – the olden days! We look at the photos, storytelling, discussing things.
I always make jokes, I think it's a more positive outlook and always just looking at the funny side of life. My dad jokes a lot, so we are very similar in that way. Cooking things, drinks – making sure everyone is happy.
What meal makes you feel especially at home?
Since 2006 I've been vegetarian so when I go back to Bulgaria I always eat salads because we eat Greek and Bulgarian cheese, which is not the yellow cheese here in England.
Cheesy pastries we make a lot as well. And salad, the smell of tomato and cucumber, definitely, it just reminds me of Bulgaria. And then specifically in terms of home, the smell of oranges and tangerines, it just reminds me of Christmas.
What smells or sounds do you associate with home?
Red wine, or wine generally, makes me feel at home, it's very homey.
Baked cakes, the way old photos smell, especially spending time with my grandma and going through her grandparents' photos.
The washing machine, fire burning, the smell of fire. Serbian music – I come from Bulgaria but I listen to a lot of Serbian music, which is very similar to Bulgarian folk music. The TV being on and hearing commentators and people being happy and watching football. I'm an Arsenal fan, my dad is a Liverpool fan, so we have our issues.
How do you connect with nature at home?
I have a few plants at home, they're very easy cactuses and some ficuses. Watching David Attenborough – when I flip through the channels and I hear his voice I need to stop, go back and then watch. I really like him.
And specifically during covid – my table in the sitting room where I work used to face the wall, but because now we're spending much more time at home I've positioned it so that it looks almost through the window, so I feel like I'm outside.
Who does the housework in your home?
My partner does the housework at home and I feel like he actually enjoys it, I don't enjoy cleaning. I like washing – when I work on projects, I like to take a break and wash some dishes, which keeps my mind awake and gives me ideas.
What book has changed the way you think about home?
A book that was published recently by Carson Ellis, it's a celebration of many possibilities of home. It's called Home.
What I like about it is that home can be anything – sometimes I think society has certain expectations or they make us think or feel what we are supposed to do or how we're supposed to live, by what age you're supposed to have acquired certain things like have job, get married, have a pension, a house.
I like this book because it's very much about around the world – you can live anywhere you want, everything is home.
Sometimes people can say 'no but you're not supposed to live like that'...well maybe I feel more comfortable the way I am.
I think it relates a lot to the project and just the idea of what home is and making people think and reflect, that actually you're ok wherever you are – it's just your version of what's good for you, and you always know best what's good for you not others. Also the illustrations are very nice, and that's obviously a plus!
What do you most appreciate about your home?
Not following the rules – I don't like rules, regulations, terms and conditions. I think as a creative person, nothing is linear. It's always about trying different things, doing things in your own way. Home is my space to do, what I want.
We live on the top floor, which is a plus, I really like the fact that no one lives above us and I don't need to listen to people walking above.
How has lockdown changed the way you feel about home?
When it started I was aware that I was going to spend a lot of time at home – I bought new furniture and I positioned it in the sitting room, in the bedroom so I can look at it.
Spending more time together with my partner – he works from one room and I work from the other and I have my studio space, but I often like to work from the sitting room while he is doing his work on his laptop, even though we don't talk because we are focusing on the projects
If you could, what one thing would you change about your home?
A bigger space for my art materials and my projects, there's never enough space! As my partner says, I'll probably just fill it up with more stuff.
And change the colour – its beige almost everywhere! I'd like more colours, more bright, more contemporary. And maybe a garden of some sort that is just ours – not to share with people, so that you can just sit and do whatever you want.
Does anywhere else feel like home and why?
Apart from London it would be Bulgaria, I go back once a year – not too often, so people can miss me and get excited still when I go!
I feel at home there because you can be more free, many people travel there to be free. And then my home is definitely London, I'm much more comfortable here in terms of living. Yes, I have my nostalgia and memories but I wouldn’t live in Bulgaria.
- Ketchup: in the fridge or the cupboard? Fridge, definitely
- Shoes: on or off? Absolutely – off!
- Shower or bath? Bath always – when I get to hotels, we have to book rooms in hotels with bath because I don't have one at home.
- Curtains: open or closed? Definitely open – the first thing I do in the morning is open them and sometimes my partner is like 'we haven't made the bed yet so why are you opening the curtains!'
- Do you make your bed? I'm sorry to say no – I just don’t see the point if you don't spend time in the room after waking up. If you're using it then of course, but if you don't spend time in it, then why make it when you're going to sleep in it and it will become unmade?