Opening alongside Tbilisi Photo Festival’s 10th anniversary, Across the Mountains: South Caucasus Photography Vol. 1 is Georgia’s first major exhibition to bring together the work of Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian photographers. Straddling the ever-blurry line between documentary and fine art photography, the politically-provocative display wrestles with gender, minority rights, migration, and critical self-reflection. Exhibition curator Anna Shpakova described the show as “[a] series that, through multifaceted and diverse attitudes, invites us to discover ‘the Other’ as an alternative to ourselves”.
The display, which features more than 20 artists, went on display at Tbilisi’s Museum of Modern Art on the closing weekend of TPF and is set to continue its legacy with Vol. 2 in 2020. It’s also part of a wider project that promotes and connects regional artists for social and cultural change: The South Caucasus Photography Hub for Education and Innovation. The Calvert Journal chose six artists from the initiative to show the world a taste of contemporary photography from the South Caucasus as they see it today.
Death to Mosquitoes During the Summer Days (2018) reads like a nightmare. Photographer Anka Gujabidze uses the series to explore the unconscious of Georgia that she feels within herself. After spending a year travelling the country, she found certain subjects could connect different parts of the country — and herself — on an almost spiritual level to understand the ideas of truth, perception, and individuality. The resulting project is visually otherworldly and bleak. One caption in particular summarises the project well: “Strange faces, strange creatures. The will to be universal is melting here.” Haunting close-ups and bewitching portraits make Death to Mosquitoes During the Summer Days a unique take on the unspoken darker headspace of the post-Soviet republic.
Human Habits (2011 - 2018) focuses on the absurd and the abstract found in the monotonous everyday. Mammadov presents his city, Baku, as a dizzying playground while keeping a calculated distance from his subjects, remaining the ever inquisitive observer. “Human Habits is a series of works about life, its moments, sorrows, amusements, and expectations,” he says. Exploring physical comedy through impulsive snapshots, Human Habits is playful, lighthearted, and philosophical all at the same time.
I’m part of the send me send you square selfie generation is an ever-evolving series of Polaroid self-portraits that respond and imitate social media. Mirzoyan wanted to tear away from the idea that contemporary art is an English-speaking field, and the project’s text is purposefully a mix of Armenian, Russian, English, Georgian, Greek, and Persian — so that no one person can fully grasp the project’s true meaning. In doing so, Mirzoyan challenges the idea of a mutual language, making the human face the prime form of communication. The point is driven home in the countless scratches and marks that annotate each photograph, including 39 images ordered to reflect the letters of Mirzoyan’s own Armenian alphabet.
Of Raves and Protests in Tbilisi (2018) is a series by Omar Gogichaishvili, produced under the pseudonym Hitori Ni. It’s dedicated to Georgia’s liberated youth and the hardships they face at the hands of the police. Centered around Bassiani techno club, which was thrown into international spotlight after a police raid at the venue prompted mass protests, this project is a celebration of rebellion as much as it’s about the intimate, often sexual, and sometimes dangerous air that underpins Georgia’s youth culture. The glimpses into Bassiani’s secretive queer night are pleasantly inclusive: stark contrast is drawn between masked and dancing LGBTQ party-goers and the masked police officers from the protests. Bassiani and the communities that surround it have been the talk of various music magazines and social media, but Of Raves and Protests in Tbilisi makes them truly seen for the first time.
Liquid Land (2005 - 2010) dives into the legacy of Effendi’s late father, an entomologist who’s life work culminated in a collection of over 30,000 butterflies from the Soviet Union, to draw awareness and comparison to the toxic living conditions of the Absheron Peninsula near Baku. Effendi, while documenting the troubles of daily life among oil spills and crumbling industry, comments on the resilience of a society largely made up of refugees of war. This is reflected in the hardiness of those butterflies that survived past Effendi’s father’s death and how they stand to repudiate the delicacy of their vibrant wings.
Vanitas (2016 - 2019) is the culmination of Sopromadze’s unwavering obsession with the mysticism of death, its inevitability, and its predictability. Vanitas responds to the annual Lomisboa animal sacrifices in the mountains of Eastern Georgia. The series is a grid of 121 Polaroids pinned against a black plastic sheet, each entirely depicting the crimson blood of sacrificed animals that saturates dirt or is splattered on dusty rocks. Each photograph is abstract and devoid of human presence, but when compiled together these photographs show something more than the visceral remnants of death. Sopromadze studies her own attraction to the topic of death and in doing so allows the audience to question their own beliefs more freely — with the idea that to curate death and its symbolism is to command your fear of it.