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13.01.12 - 19.01.12

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A Refuge for Artistic Expression: Twentieth Century Georgian Scenography

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A new exhibition is decorating the walls of Europe House these days.

Pencil and water-coloured sketches of European military uniforms, a play bill advertising Samanashvili’s Step-Mother, mock-ups of opera openings, colourful original costumes in harlequin patterns of orange and white and trimmed with silver brocade and more drawings of King Rostevan, Avtandil, Tariel and the rest from Rustaveli’s legendary epic and how they were to appear on stage provide an insightful look at the vibrant and exuberant scenography of the Georgian theatre of the twentieth century.

A four-meter tall doll, a stage decoration from a one of Tbilisi’s most famous theatres, with long, brown hair, a hint of a smile and a long dress that covers her feet, hangs from the ceiling and greets visitors to the exhibition.

A Refuge for Artistic Expression: Twentieth Century Georgian Scenography opened at Europe House on 21 December and will run until 20 January 2012. Curated by Marianna Oakley, the exhibition features a specially-collected sampling of items from the museums of the Rustaveli and Marjanishvili Theatres, the Museum of Cinema, Music and Choreography and from various private collections—including, as in many cases here, from family members of the artists themselves—in this first-ever Tbilisi showing outside of the museums or living rooms where they normally hang.

“During difficult periods for our country, the theatre was a sort of a niche or safe haven where artists—working in any medium and in any genre—could freely express their attitudes towards the essence and form of art,” explains Dr Oakley, a specialist in art history who graduated from the Georgian Academy of Art and who now works as a researcher at the George Chubinishvili National Research Centre for Georgian Art History and Heritage Preservation.

“There were external political pressures [during the Soviet period] and artists also felt these pressures but art—and scenography, especially—was relatively free, so to speak, from the outside influence. Georgian theatre design was never oppressed. In fact, a great many painters went to work in the theatre because of the freedom that it allowed them in their work.”

The exhibition consists of approximately 50 items ranging from costume and set design sketches, posters, stage mock-ups and some costumes themselves. Black-and-white video clips of dance performances and snippets of interviews by Vakhtang Chabukiani, a famous Georgian ballet dancer and choreographer regarded by many as one of the most influential male ballet dancers in history, and not only in Georgia, play in the background to provide further impressions from within the walls of the Georgian theatre.

“Showing these items was first proposed by David Tskhadadze, the Deputy Minister of Culture,” tells Oakley. “We visited the museums and collected the works and made an exhibition in Paris, in 2010, and then at the Georgian Embassy in Berlin, in May this year. This exhibition at Europe House marks its local premiere.”

A Refuge for Artistic Expression includes the works of Valerian Sidamon-Eristavi, Petre Otskheli, Irakli Gamrekeli, Kirill Zdanevich, Soliko Virsaladze, Sergo Kobuladze, Irina Stenberg, Giorgi Gunia, Teimuraz Murvanidze, Mirian Shvelidze and others.

“It’s Mirian Shvelidze’s work,” says Oakley, when asked about the doll and its impressive presence in the gallery. “It’s from the play The Sweet Sad Scent of Vanilla by [Irakli] Samsonadze which ran at the Rustaveli Drama Theatre. He was the set designer. He has over 20 years of experience at the [Rustaveli] Theatre and has worked abroad, too, in Russia, Turkey, Israel and Germany.”

A Refuge for Artistic Expression: Twentieth Century Georgian Scenography is open to the public. Visiting hours are from 11:00 to 18:00 at Europe House. The exhibition’s closing ceremony will take place on 19 January at 18:00.

By Jeffrey Morski

12.01.2012

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