It was during the last edition of Berlin Gallery Weekend that I was invited to attend a performance at the Hallesches Tor, more precisely at Molt. The artwork was titled I'm an artist, by Shalva Nikvashvili. As soon as I saw the striking and suggestive flyer, I knew it wouldn’t leave me indifferent.
Not only was I not indifferent, but I was intrigued and obsessed. I was in a state akin to both shock and fruition that cancelled my subsequent actions. As soon as that sensation started to fade, I went over to greet him. A few months later, we met again and talked about the topics that matter to him, the disciplines he practices, his vision and other reflections captured here.

Shalva Nikvashvili was born in 1990 in Sighnaghi, Georgia, and currently resides and works in Germany. His art is a captivating blend of provocative forms and multidisciplinary practices, delving into a myriad of sensations, ideas, and traumas to unveil matters of identity and existentialism. Shalva's creations seamlessly merge abstract and figurative elements, pushing the boundaries of conventional portraiture and expanding the realm of visual creativity.

In his presentations, Shalva frequently incorporates real-time interactions, blurring the line between creator and observer, thus challenging the traditional artistic encounter. Moreover, these playful interjections possess the power to underscore issues of societal and political significance, providing a platform for contemplation and meaningful discourse.
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You once posted on Instagram: “Shalva is a transgressive artist, an oh yeah yeah artist, a sick person, is not artist.” Tell us more about yourself. Who can Shalva be? Or who is he?
People like to label things, name them, put them in order. [Silence] Sorry, I had to stop because I live in a very small village in the German countryside –three hundred twenty-five people, there isn’t even a grocery store, and our house is in front of the church. It's twelve o’clock now, so the church started to ring the bells. This sound makes me so angry and so frustrated. I’m ready to make Molotov cocktails and just throw them at this useless building!
Back to the question, I used most of the names I have been called besides ‘oh yeah yeah artist’ –that’s my quote–. I found it amusing. But I don’t want to limit myself to a certain title; even ‘artist’ can feel quite pretentious. Everybody can be an artist, but the most important question is: what are you conveying through your work? Is it mere decoration? Are you trying to impress us? Or is it something you feel compelled to bring forth, to express and unburden yourself?
To describe myself, I'd align with the third question. Every day, I wake up with an irresistible urge to create, to do something, regardless of what or how. Because this is my life! This is the thing that makes me excited or sad or loved. Maybe I sound quite lonely, but that’s my reality. When you are creative, you are with yourself all the time. This is how I could explain who and what I am (laughs).
Do you separate yourself as a person from the Shalva artist?
I believe there's a blurred line between my identity as a person and my role as an 'artist.' I totally dislike the reality of life. I find myself perpetually immersed in dreams and illusions related to my work, so maybe, I am trying to not separate it because reality will be quite disappointing?!
When did you start doing performances and why?
Four years ago, Slavs and Tartars invited me to create a performance in collaboration with KW for Berlin Art Week. They selected three artists (myself included) to create different performance pieces. That was the first time I was asked to perform. But I remember myself as a child constantly performing, imitating other people, stealing my mother’s wig, and pretending to be a contestant in beauty pageants. But this request was something different as it was related to Georgian culture. I accepted and started to think a lot about what to do and how to do it.
I realised I was arranging the performance to the last detail, and that felt like I was forcing my creativity. Because of that, I decided to start over and just focus on the character I was going to be and use the audience as my material for the artwork. I cooked traditional Georgian food for more than fifty people, fed them, and then the performance started. When it finished… I can’t even describe the feeling and the emotion. I felt too much energy inside me, like I was almost going to explode from excitement and fear at the same time. It’s like when you try a drug for the first time: it takes you to another planet, so you want to repeat it again and again and again.
Since then, I decided to continue with this way of working. It even brought me to the point where I decided to limit myself, produce less physical works but do more performances and short films. I had always thought about what would happen to my body of work after my death, but now I know that most of it won’t be physical and will die with me, so I’m less worried about that.
You also explore different media and disciplines. What is your creative process like, and how do you choose what to work with and when?
As I said, I don’t like to limit myself and that’s why I do anything that comes to my mind. Perfection was invented by humans, and once I discovered that, I just allowed myself to do whatever I wanted to. I believe that ceasing to obsess over perfection and letting go of expectations is the most effective way to embark on a journey to a profound place and find inner peace. I am constantly experimenting and failing, and during this process, ideas and discoveries come to me. I often feel like a kid. I remember when I would discover something new –the excitement would make me so happy that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. New ideas and beginnings emerge from this.
I’m not a people-pleaser, which is why I almost never collaborate with other artists. It takes so much energy, and on top of that, I can’t handle being nice just because I can get something out of a situation. Fuck that! I wait for others to reach me so I don’t feel forced to make someone understand my work. I appreciate honesty, and when I see that quality in someone, that's the way for me to work with them.
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You say you don’t like to explain your work because you find it boring. What’s your relationship with both theory and feeling?
My way of communicating with the world is through my work –this is what I feel and what I want to say–. If I put it into words it loses its meaning. Institutions force artists to explain their work, and then curators write forty pages explaining why a nail was punched to a wall. This verbal penetration became so potent that they began selling 'artworks' for millions, profiting from something with a material value far less than gold or diamonds.
They realised that by offering explanations, they could attain wealth and fame. Consequently, they started elucidating matters that were either not truly inexplicable or were so deeply personal that comprehension seemed almost impossible. I can briefly touch upon the feelings that have inspired my ideas and work, but I won't spoon-feed them to you. Instead, I'm curious to discover your interpretation of them.
You were raised in an ultra-conservative family who rejected your homosexuality. Later, you married a Belgian guy that you broke up with later. Not to dig into your personal life, but how do you think trauma can be transformed, if so?
I'm completely open to discussing my past and personal life; I no longer wish to conceal or suppress my experiences. I grew up in a very traditional family, with no connections to the world of art. Coincidentally, I was born as the Soviet Union was collapsing, and everyone, including my family, lost everything. We lived in extreme poverty, enduring years without consistent access to electricity, hot water, or heating. My entire childhood was spent observing my parents' relentless efforts to provide for me, my sister, and my brother.
While my father sold bananas on the streets, my mother, often with me by her side, went door-to-door selling bed sheets, pillow covers, and dishes—items of little value. She even sold her wedding ring. These were dark times in Georgia. I remember crafting small sculptures from candle wax remnants or bread crumbs, and fashioning toys from spoons and forks, connecting them with pieces of fabric. I would repeatedly dismantle and rebuild them, infusing them with characters, cutting them out, playing with them, and weaving endless stories around them in my dreams.
At a very young age, I discovered that I was gay, which made my life in Georgia, especially with my family, even more challenging. It was during this period that I met my ex-Belgian husband. In that relationship, I experienced sexual, mental, and later even physical abuse. I endured almost three years of utter madness. I became so diminished within myself that the feeling started to consume me, leaving me with two options: to end my own life or to escape. I chose to escape and began to raise my voice about everything that had happened to me during those years.
My Georgian passport didn't offer any help with Belgian authorities. A policeman at a local police station once told me, 'Everyone like you comes to our country to take advantage and exploit our system.' My court case against my husband was dismissed because he claimed that 'it didn't happen,' and they believed him.
It’s nearly impossible to describe all of this, but somehow, I made it through. The one thing I never stopped doing was my work. It was what kept me believing in the future and motivated me to keep moving forward. I decided to channel all my life experiences, traumas, and emotions into my work, transforming them into something else.
Your evocative short film, Shishi delves into the depths of your childhood fears and dreams. Was the creative process relieving for you? What was your underlying purpose? We would love to hear more about your current fears and aspirations.
It's never a relieving experience for me when I work on something that brings back memories of my past. It can feel more like torture than relief, but I continue to do it because I want to remind myself of who I am and where I come from. I'm determined not to forget any of it because it's what has shaped me into the person I am today. To be honest, at this point, I don't dwell on my fears. I choose to ignore them. Instead, I focus on my dreams. I dream about the excitement of each new day and what I'm going to do and how I'll do it. I'm living day by day, and it's far more thrilling.
You also worked as a costume designer for leading opera and theatre houses such as the Burgteater in Vienna, Austria, and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Germany. How do you link practical and artistic applications?
I’m very lucky with the director I’m still working with. His name is Daniel Kramer, and he allows me to push my boundaries and go wild. The trust he has in my work is massive, so I feel comfortable in combining practical and artistic thinking at the same time.
Maybe you can't talk about it (I don't expect spoilers), but what can you tell us about your upcoming Kaspar at Burgtheater Viena? It’s premiering on November 10.
Kaspar is a production I am developing. I'm creating lots of masks by myself in my atelier. This is how I spent my summer holidays. Besides that, I’m working on a new short film and a group exhibition in December at West Den Haag (invited by Slavs and Tatars). I'm also creating a new performance piece giving birth to Superstar, who wants to be a singer, and working at another opera production which I can’t share at the moment because it's not officially announced yet.
To close the interview, I would like to ask for Shalva’s dictionary of the following:
Fashion: I dislike what fashion has become.
Imagination: To be a deer hunting on humans.
Best advice given: ‘f someone shouts at you, shout harder back. My grandmother told me that.
Favourite element of nature: Animals.
What makes you cry: When I see a roadkill animal.
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