Blue — Story of Georgian Queer Art, which Traveled a Difficult Path to Reach the Readers

ფოტო წიგნის პრეზენტაციიდან

“We can think of the queer gaze as a metaphor for the new age, of course, it this is a strong archetype based in the collective memory, which was born in the ancient stage of human development, but was suppressed and neglected in heteropatriarchal cultures for centuries”, – we read in Keti Shavgulidze’s foreword – “Another Gaze”, which was written for the book “Blue – Queer Story in Georgian Art”.

The publication, which explores the diversity of queer art and queer visions in Georgia over the last century, studies works with a new, queer eye, most of which have been seen by a small number of art lovers.

The authors of the idea of ​​the book are Davit Apakidze and Uta Bekaia. Davit tells us that experiences during his studies made him realize how necessary it is to implement such an idea – he was doing his thesis on Georgian queer fashion and found that there was no supporting literature. Later, he studied avant-garde art and while studying the works of Petre Otskheli with the eyes of a researcher, he realized that this queer art, even if there was no discussion about it in this direction.

“I realized that the hegemonic culture had taken away many things that needed to be reclaimed. Together with Uta Bekaia, the idea that a book could be made was born. Soon we talked to the team that worked on the book and developed the idea together. Along with the return of queer art, our goal was to bring into the academic space texts, that would offer helpful literature to people interested in queer art research,” David tells us, adding, “It is also important to see that queerness does not belong only to the Western culture, but exists in any culture, including ours, and in a form different from the Western one”.

Davit Apakidze also has a small story about the history of the word blue being associated with homosexuality – in the 50’s, in one of the gathering places of homosexual men, in a garden, you would hear the song “fly away, doves, fly away” [in Russian]. This is how men signaled each other about upcoming raids.

“Because of the Soviet surveillance, this place disappeared. Its pigeons also disappeared, but the word blue remained and acquired a derogatory meaning… In English, blue expresses sadness, and in the post-Soviet space, this word refers to homosexuals. The history of that one garden is sad, just like many other stories in our country or region” – writes David and offers us an interesting attempt of reclaiming the word (the word queer is also a reclaimed word in this sense, once humiliating, but now with a multi-layered, deep meaning).

According to Davit, many were mistaken and thought that the publication being made was about queer artists, which is not the case — “even the term queer is quite new and was not used in the modern sense at the beginning of the 20th century. The book explores a queer sensibility, a queer philosophy, an attempt to read the works with a queer eye.”

Photo from the presentation. In the background is a painting by Gigo Gabashvili – “the Winged Androgynous”.

The publication examines the works in which the artists begin to search beyond the prevailing binary understanding, the strongly separated borders between men and women, getting wrapped up in a dangerous game.

“No matter what topic Georgian modernists touch on queer issues, be it gender identity, openly declared sexuality or homoeroticity, as a result, subordination between the sexes is abolished, gender as a binary opposition is lost and the patriarchal signs of traditional culture are replaced in the background. Accordingly, a subversive, polygendered world is created – an artistic reality where difference on any basis is legitimate”, – writes art critic Kristine Darchia in the study “From Symbolist Androgyne to Masculine Self-Presentation: Traces of Queer Themes in Georgian Modernism”.

At the end of the discussion, Kristine Darchia adds – if it weren’t for the events of 1921, like Western European countries, Georgian culture would have continued to move in this direction, which probably would have led to a change in society’s thinking models, but Sovietization closed this door for us for a long while.

The next texts of the publication explore the Soviet period. An art critic, Gogi Gvakharia writes about the establishment of the doctrine of socialist realism in the Soviet art, at the same time about the rejection of modernism and the legal persecution of homosexuality – about male friendship, heroism, dedication, fetishization of muscular bodies, in short, the tradition of introducing the cult of man and the complete rejection of female sexuality, female body.

Teo Khatiashvili, from Sergei Parajanov’s biography, recalls the arrests on charges of homosexuality, familiar to many, and drags us into the search for queer sensibility in his work and writes:

“In the secret dossier on Parajanov, which was opened and made available a few years ago, the theme of his ideological unreliability, “moral corruption and depravity” constantly appears, which, surprisingly, was a good excuse to punish a free, bold director who had fallen out of the zone of ideological control.”

Photo from the book presentation

Khatuna Khabuliani, Doctor of Art Studies, explores the conscious and unconscious representations of the queer/feminist theme in Georgian painting of the second half of the 20th century.

Khabuliani writes that in the works of artists of the 50’s and 60’s, the interest in the body was disguised as work done only to refine the educational drawing.

“The artist masked their interest in the sexuality of the body, the degree of its sensitivity, with the typical titles for the works made for the study of the anatomical structure – “Nude Nature”, “Study Painting”, and so on,” Khabuliani writes, adding that even if the slightest interest in the body expression or sexuality appeared in the compositions of individual artists, society lacked the appropriate skills and terminology to respond.

“In the Soviet reality, even during the period of warming up, there was no discussion about the transmission of eroticism, bodily feeling, representation. As if there was no accumulated experience around body knowledge, sexual identity issues. The anecdotal saying – we don’t have sex in the Soviet Union – was a reality in this regard, and the humanitarian field did not investigate or discuss the debate about sexual identity at all.”

Queer art and 21st century Georgia became the research topic of contemporary art researcher Nikoloz Nadirashvili. According to him, queer art, as one of the conceptual frameworks of contemporary art, is different in different geopolitical and cultural contexts.

“In the 21st century Georgia, it mostly refers to the collective traumas that are constantly produced under the repressive, orthodox-patriarchal ideology built on the Soviet foundation. Many of his applications uncompromisingly confront all those institutions that strengthen chauvinist, ultra-nationalist and pseudo-patriotic tendencies along with patriarchal ones. In this regard, his frequent addressee, the Georgian Orthodox Church, which is considered to be the institutional successor of the monopoly of Soviet atheism and which turned out to be a kind of moral support for the post-Soviet national identity-seeking society”, writes Nadirashvili.

Nadirashvili reviews the state of political instrumentalization of LGBTQ issues in modern Georgia, the birth and development of institutional queer activism, cases of occupation of public space and physical attacks, and in this context, talks about the development of queer art in response.

Photo from the book

Introducing the search and findings of queer expression in the Georgian art of the last century to the public, of course, did not go smoothly. To describe the path that the book took to meet the reader, Giorgi Kikonishvili [along with Naja Orashvili], project co-leader, recalls the rhizome metaphor mentioned by Keti Shavgulidze.

"Rhizome is a horizontally climbing root system, where there is no stem, shoot or root that is considered as a center or axis in relation to others... It cannot be destroyed, because it is impossible to determine the trajectory of its development... It will definitely find a way to develop, overcome all obstacles, pits, ditches, borders, it will dam up and sprout a new stem. It is as changeable and untouched as life itself," — Keti Shavgulidze.

Giorgi Kikonishvili writes that “the attempt to gather together and read in a new way the fragments of the Soviet repressive system’s shootings and exiles, the disappeared and hidden history, apparently, did not affect the mood of today’s culture officials and private collectors, at least in a pleasant way”, so the idea of ​​the book It was the path of  a rhizome – it went through the barriers and became a reality.

They tried for a long time to get official permission to use the works, but without any success. However, they found a way out, they didn’t give the already hidden news to the modern censor, and the works, which they were not allowed to use, still ended up in the book. These works are marked with a rose symbol in the corner and acquire an even more special meaning — like rhizomes, they have come across the dams and await the reader and viewer on the pages of the book.

The paintings of Gigo Gabashvili, Lado Gudiashvili and Elene Akhvlediani are marked with a rose, which you can view along with other works from the 20th-21st centuries on the pages of the book. Currently, the book is out of print, but if you follow the Facebook page of the creative collective Spectrum, you will not miss information about the updated edition.