It is not often that you get to have the opportunity to get to know the true essence of a country in-depth in just one week, let alone two nations at the same time, but Culture Week in Tbilisi – which was held from November 3rd to 7th – has fulfilled this objective, and in what a way. In 5 days, we have witnessed the profound bond that unites Georgia and Ukraine, the deep artistic and cultural traditions of both countries, and the strength and tenacity of their citizens to overcome adversity, move forward, and raise their voices with art as a revolutionary tool.
From the very first moment, from the very first meeting, the multicultural atmosphere and integration that would be experienced during the week were established, with traditional Georgian cuisine as an excuse. Around the tables of the many different restaurants we got to visit, each with its own unique and personal aesthetic, the guests were able to share, meet, and unite cultures with a glass of wine in between, as expected from a country that proudly boasts of being the nation from which wine originated and having a seemingly infinite variety of typical dishes.
One of the primary purposes of this meeting was to exalt the importance and superb artistic and cultural heritage of both Georgians and Ukrainians, while the latter is in the midst of living through a horrific time. And a place like Georgia has a close and intimate bond with Ukraine as they are victims of the same enemy. As a result, a large portion of the shows, exhibitions, and performances were created by Ukrainian artists, providing us with an ideal opportunity as guests to understand a reality that is not so close to us and of which we know just enough, but that is the daily life of people who only wish to reclaim the freedom, tranquility, and happiness they once had.
Between lunches and dinners, an extensive, intense, and complete agenda was strategically planned by the organiser Sofia Tchkonia, who, without forgetting any detail, knew how to perfectly distribute exhibitions of all kinds of artistic disciplines, from painting to ballet, dance, and performance, cultural events to learn more about the history of the host countries, and leisure, Tbilisi being one of the cities with the most interesting nightlife in the region. One of these spaces, the Bassiani, one of the most mythical nightclubs in the country whose main dance floor is a disused swimming pool, hosted the Ukrainian company Quatro Ballet, which, with an overwhelmingly empty setup in which the four dancers and the two musicians, Sandro Gegechkori and Liza Ramishvili, were alone, hypnotised the audience with a deeply moving, intimate, and meaningful performance.
This was not the only ballet showcase of the week, on the last day and as a grand finale, Quatro again presented in the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet State Theatre the work Radio and Juliet, a proposal in which the classic of literature is represented with the music of the English band in the background, resulting in a completely innovative and equally moving performance. The experience, perfectionism, and hours of practise of the dancers are made manifest, and we were able to witness them when, in a unique opportunity, we were given the chance to attend the private rehearsals, where the professionalism and attention to detail were more than evident.
As well as dance, music played a very important role throughout the days, where, thanks to the diversity of proposals, all kinds of emotions were evoked in the spectators. Factory Tbilisi, a former Coca-Cola factory repurposed as a multipurpose cultural space, was the venue where most of the cultural events took place, and in one of the halls set up as a concert hall, a great variety of musicians performed. Beginning with the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Nikoloz Rachveli and accompanied by Ukrainian singer Katya Chilly and Georgian singer Nino Katamadze, whose powerful but emotional voices singing about themes like home, maternal love, and the return to one's roots brought many in the audience to tears.
With the Georgian Niaz Diasamidze and the Ukrainian Dz'ob the most traditional rhythms merged with modern ones in a concert where the invitation to free oneself from ties and enjoy music freely was extended to those present. Freedom that the pianist Beka Gochiashvili also made us feel, but in a different way, in a moving recital, in one of the most attended performances of the week.
Through art, painting, and sculpture, we were able to learn more about the stories and personal points of view of people who have experienced the conflict first-hand. The artistic exhibition at Factory was extensive, varied, and very interesting, with works by Ukrainian artists such as the Fungus Project, Roma Mikhailov and Levan Songulashvili.
Songulashvili had the opportunity to personally explain each of his works in the exhibition, and we were able to discover striking details such as the great influence of his mother as inspiration for his works and how one of them was made in three phases: before knowing a serious illness that afflicted her, during the most complicated phase that ended her life, and after going through the mourning process. All of this, combined with the start of the war and his hasty departure from his homeland, explains why many of the works began in one location but were completed in another.
It is through the voices of these artists, the human beings behind the figures we see on stage, that we can learn about a reality that escapes us, a reality as crude as that of the dozens of Ukrainian and Georgian children victims of the conflict depicted in Maryna Karpiy's photographs in her Children of War project, which is on display in what is perhaps the country's most impressive monument, the Chronicle of Georgia.
We met two countries, two cultures, and two ways of seeing life that converge in the search for freedom, and that in just five days managed to show the world what they are made of, what their history and roots are, and why we should support them in the struggle for their homes, to regain the tranquility of the past, and for the opportunity to continue being the cradle of unique talents and human beings eager to create.