The little-known but fascinating Georgian Avant-Garde movement is in the spotlight at the Europalia Arts Festival, which has opened in Brussels.
For four months from 5 October 2023, Georgian art and culture will be taking centre stage across various iconic venues in the European capital, uniting the visual and performing arts, film, music, literature and debate.
What a day! #europaliageorgia🇬🇪🇧🇪🇪🇺 Arts Festival is now officially open.— Vato Makharoblishvili (@AmbVatoM) October 5, 2023
🇬🇪is honoured to be host of @europalia_ festival that gives excellent opportunity to represent the best of our unique & fascinating culture & arts in Europe.
Vive la Géorgie,vive la Belgique,vive l’Europe! pic.twitter.com/FyDVtnCzc2
What is Europalia?
A multi-modal art and culture festival themed around a different country every two years, this year’s Europalia has taken Georgia as its focus, with a rich calendar of exhibitions, shows, concerts, dance and theatre productions and literature that promises to bring the best of Georgia’s regions and capital to a wider European audience.
☝️ Tous les deux ans, @europalia_ met un pays à l’honneur à travers sa culture : le théâtre, la danse, la musique et la littérature. Cette fois-ci, c’est la Géorgie qui est sous le feux des projecteurs ! 🇬🇪 pic.twitter.com/TgcdNngg00— Belgian Royal Palace (@MonarchieBe) October 4, 2023
The festival programme was launched at the Belgian capital’s Bozar last week, an event attended by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. On X, Vato Makharoblishvili, the Georgian ambassador to the EU, said the country was “honoured” by the festival.
Fittingly, Europalia’s opening exhibition at Bozar brings back to the fore a Georgian movement that was going on as Art Deco form was itself taking shape.
Georgia’s Avant-Garde movement (1900-1936) saw many creatives descend upon the Georgian capital during the country’s brief period of independence between the fall of Russia’s Tsarist Empire and the USSR’s takeover from 1918 and 1921. This artistic community came together to fuel its own revolution in art and in life, embracing Western and Eastern influences, and incarnating a new attitude.
The movement was brutally stamped out when the USSR annexed Georgia, with some avant-garde artists persecuted and deported and others forced to adopt a style more in keeping with the USSR’s preferred socialist realism.
While Berlin’s period of underground artistic hedonism between the wars has been well documented, in the show Cabaret for example, this fertile and febrile time in Georgia is little known.
Now Europalia, for the first time in Europe, is shining a light on the glory days of the Georgian Avant-Garde, as well as exposing the repression that took place and tracing the path of artists pushed towards other disciplines and art forms such as film production and sceneography.
“Never been shown before”
Commenting on the choice of Georgia for the exhibition, Dirk Vermaelen, artistic director of Europalia, said: “In an exceptionally short period, a fascinating number of artists met in the taverns and cafés of the capital, Tbilisi. This Georgian avant-garde was totally unknown. We immediately thought: we have to show this, this has to be our opening exhibition. It has never been shown in Europe before.”
What’s more, the festival is not all retrospective or canonical, by any means. Newly commissioned projects and artistic residencies, women’s art and youth movements are also part of the package, showing that art and experimentation are alive and well in Georgia.