Georgian avant-garde in spotlight at flagship Europalia exhbition

The flagship exhibition of the biennial Europalia arts festival opened at Bozar in Brussels on Wednesday, in the presence of King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. 

The Avant-Garde in Georgia (1900-1936) features more than 150 works that tell the story of the run-up to and consequences of the country’s short period of independence between 1918 and 1921, from the fall of the Russian Tsarist Empire until it was annexed by the USSR.

“In an exceptionally short period, a fascinating number of artists met in the taverns and cafés of the capital, Tbilisi,” said Dirk Vermaelen, artistic director of Europalia. “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.”

Together, artists created new practices and defined a new attitude to life, with a mix of Georgian tradition and Western and Eastern influences. The exhibition also looks at the influence of the diaspora on artists in Paris, which was an important centre for the Georgian avant-garde movement from 1910. 

The short-lived heyday of this avant-garde came to a bloody end with annexation by the USSR, which imposed the aesthetic principles of socialist realism on Georgian artists. This creative repression propelled artists towards film production and scenography.

As part of the festival, Cinematek is screening a series of Georgian films. “We show how from 1921 to 1922, avant-garde artists were persecuted by the Soviet Union, deported and executed,” said Vermaelen. “At the beginning of the repression there was still some freedom in cinema and theatre, but from 1936 Stalin started his big clean-up in the Soviet Union. We wanted to show that period too.”

Europalia is a biennial arts festival in Brussels that takes a different country as its theme for each edition. Recent years have focused on Romania, Turkey and Indonesia. 

The festival runs from 5 October to 14 January. The programme includes visual arts, traditional and contemporary music, puppetry and a performance by the Georgian National Ballet.

"In an exceptionally short period, a fascinating number of artists met in the taverns and cafés of the capital, Tbilisi"


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