Despite rapid economic development in Georgia following the political and economic crisis of the 1990’s, many of the country’s artists emigrated abroad due to the absence of any stimulating mechanism for self-expression and development. With a rich history and cultural identity, Georgia has long had the potential to become a cultural hub in the Caucasus, yet until recently a gap still existed between Georgia and the global contemporary art scene. Recognizing the potential of Georgia’s emerging artists, Tamuna Arshba and Natia Khuntua founded ERTI Gallery in 2015, with the goal of promoting the development of the art market inside the country as well as creating a platform that would create new opportunities for artists’ self-expression within Georgia. Gallery Girl met with ERTI’s co-founder, Tamuna Arshba to talk art fairs, galleries and Georgian art.
Since its founding three years ago, ERTI has developed a key strategy of development, organised high profile exhibitions and invited international curators to Georgia to foster a relationship of co-operation with international art institutions. Speaking about the ever-growing art scene in Tbilisi, Arshba explains that more and more new initiatives are appearing every day. “Festivals, projects and other instruments are helping to stimulate the development of contemporary art”, she says, “We have a new generation of emerging artists with a good education and potential.”
ERTI’s artists work in a range of different mediums. “Our artists have impressive and cognitive impact”, says Arshba, “And are always relevant to contemporary consciousness.” The gallery prefers to work with a small group of artists in order to be able to fully help those that they are working with to develop and give them new opportunities. “Our gallery always supports new initiatives and we are financing our artists’ creative process – filming, sculptures, studios”, explains Arshba, adding, “We are presenting them at prestigious international art fairs and trying to collaborate with international institutions.” Moreover, after every exhibition ERTI publishes a book dedicated to the show and the gallery is actively trying to attract more international curators in order to increase awareness about the Georgian contemporary art scene.
The gallery is making its presence known on an international scale too, having already participated at ArtGenève, Art Dubai, Comoscow, Photo Basel and ViennaContemporary, ERTI is about to make a presentation for the first time at NADA Miami with the work of Levan Mindiashvili. “Art fairs are an instrument through which the gallery is implementing the policy of popularizing Georgian contemporary art”, she explains, “As a result the gallery’s artists’ works are getting into collections worldwide and more and more representatives of the world’s art society are supporting contemporary art from Georgia.” To add to international exhibition, the first Tbilisi Art Fair took place in May 2018. “I was excited when I heard about it”, says Arshba, “Without a doubt, Tbilisi is a very interesting city, and Georgia geopolitically and culturally attracts a lot of people from around the world. Tbilisi Art Fair is a perfect reason for the representatives of the art world to come and see our art stage, artists, museums and galleries.” ERTI’s booth represented works by Tato Akhalkatsishvili, Levan Mindiashvili and Levan Songulashvili. “Many interesting people arrived, and I was happy to have the opportunity to meet them in Tbilisi and share our experience with them”, says Arshba of the debut Georgian art fair. Running parallel to the main event, ERTI held a book presentation for Levan Songulashvili at the gallery, and ERTI also had a site-specific project at the fair that presented an installation of ceramic sculptures by Uta Bekaia titled Inhabitants of childhood.
ERTI’s current exhibition has been curated by Andrey Misiano, of Moscow’s celebrated Garage – Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition – which first began at Garage, travelled to Milan before opening in Tbilisi – consists of the work of Koka Ramishvili, Taus Makhacheva, Aslan Gaisumov, Lusine Djanian and Sitara Ibrahimova. Highlights include Ramishvili’s video work War from my window, which consists of 12 black and white photographs made during the civil war in Tbilisi, which coincided between the Christmas days of 24th December 1991 and 6th January 1992. There will also be works that date back to the 19th century through Makhacheva’s contribution, whose work – which is from the collection of MHKA Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp – depicts tribes from diverse nationalities and professions. In addition, Djanian’s oil on textile Ires tells the story of a woman who fled from Azerbaijan during conflict, hiding her most valuable possessions in a blanket. This fabric hid her scanty savings, family photographs and was also used to keep her children warm at night.
Besides presenting contemporary artists, does ERTI promote traditionally Georgian art? “We do have a number of artists who show their cultural identity through contemporary context”, explains Arshba, citing Uta Bekaia as an example. During their last project together at Cosmoscow International Art Fair (September 2018), Bekaia exhibited a 3-channel video installation called Kinto Dreams. The work sees Bekaia perform the Kinto dance – Kinto were traders who danced in the streets and restaurants of Georgia during the 19th century – while listening to underground techno music as opposed to the traditional songs one might expect to hear, thus creating a link between contemporary and traditional culture. Arshba also mentions documentary photographer Daro Sulakauri as a notable artist whose work is distinctly Georgian. “Her research is about raising awareness about social issues and problems that exist in Georgian regions”, she says, “Her photos are shot without any spotlight and are very authentic. She never searches for a perfect image, her photos are the documentation of people’s fate and they always depict situations beyond documentation.” In fact, ERTI has just closed Sulakauri’s first solo show, which was curated by Uta Grosenick. “We selected photos from her lifetime’s work and dedicated the show to Georgian women living in the regions”, explains Arshba, “Despite the fact that all the photos were shot in Georgia, all of them vitally expressed the contemporary consciousness – the most precious characteristic of Daro’s art.”
The future of contemporary art in Georgia seems positive. What with galleries like ERTI and the founding of the Tbilisi Art Fair, it appears that the Georgian art scene is only set to grow, on both the national and international stage. “Happily we do have artists who are returning to live in Georgia”, says Arshba, “As they say – apparently there is a new energy to create and to develop further – and then all our efforts make sense.”