It has been evident for a while, but the established press has finally realized that Tbilisi is something beyond another very hip place. The city has quickly managed to assert itself into the mainstream conversation regarding film, art, music, and fashion, in spite of poverty, religious oppression, police violence, and the banality of the corrupt neoliberal economic policy of the Georgian state. Whereas numerous cities in the post-socialist world, such as Krakow, Ljubljana, and Riga, have become centers of tourism, Tbilisi has the additive attraction of having a flourishing counter-culture that is being led by individuals who grew up during the tumultuous 90’s in Georgia. Even though some have attempted to cheapen and cash in on this creative culture, Tbilisi continues to foster a radical and critical youth culture. Some may argue that Tbilisi’s strongest resource is its tourism industry, yet its population seems to be its real gold mine.
Whether it is people like Dina Oganova, Tato Rusia, or Situationist that we love, Tbilisi is littered with richly talented individuals that have grown the stature of Tbilisi as a creative hub. However, here are five other names that are helping lead the conversations in Tbilisi and turning this city into Europe’s most exciting capital.
Beso is a lawyer who just didn’t want to be lawyering. Instead, he decided to start making videos while studying in Estonia. Afterwards, he made his first proper documentary while hitchhiking across Chile and Argentina capturing the musings of the different drivers that picked him up. His film Hitchhiking Patagonia recently premiered at the CinéDOC festival in Tbilisi. His other work that has garnered a great deal of attention was his beautiful short Tbilisi Postcards that capture the peculiar charm of the city in a fashion rarely seen. His talent reflects his amazing ability to locate those spaces of innocuous and monotonous details that reveal the essence of the subject he is investigating. He represents a new generation of filmmakers in Georgia that continues a long heritage of forward thinking filmmaking.
Elene is one of the co-founders and the creative director for Danarti/დანართი, which is currently Tbilisi’s most exciting press. Four issues have been published, focusing on issues like Tbilisi’s architecture and LGBT rights in Georgia. This University of London educated Tbilisian and her team will soon be publishing their next issue titled Georgia 1990’s: Tips For Survival, reflecting upon that integral period in Georgian history. Danarti manages to assemble a diverse array of thinkers to construct one of the most thought-provoking publications. It follows in the same vain as the famed Soviet-era Samizdat, which was independent, self-published, and challenged the status quo. In a country that is regularly reduced to a geo-strategic center by culturally deaf Western journalists, Elene’s work with Danarti helps create a space for Georgians to construct the conversation beyond the realm of foreign policy, and showcase Georgian critical voices.
With Demna Gvasalia as creative director of Balenciaga, and Situationist becoming the favourite brand of Hollywood stars, Tbilisi has emerged as an epicenter of fashion. At only twenty-five years old, George Keburia has become one of the most prominent designers in the city. With his work inspired by the Georgian experience during the 90’s and the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights, he has a taste for provokingly having the word GAY along with machine guns across the center of his pieces. His work has been garnering the attention of major Western presses and has been worn by the likes of Lady Gaga. His work represents a new assertiveness within Georgian young culture that intertwines both Georgian-based narratives and global themes to construct something distinctively Tbilisian, yet accessible to the world.
As the executive director at the LGBT-focused NGO Equality Movement, few people in Tbilisi have done more to bring attention to the oppression that Georgian LGBTs suffer than Levan Berianidze. He currently has been organizing the queer nights at Bassani called HŌRŌOM. As the first major queer-friendly club night in Georgia, the name refers to khorumi, which is a war dance traditionally performed by men only. These nights have created one of the few public safe spaces for the LGBT scene to assemble and imagine a life where oppression and alienation are not the prevailing themes of existence. In a country where the first celebration of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia concluded in 2012 with bearded priests and hooligans attacking people, HŌRŌOM represents a seismic shift step forward for all Georgians believing in equality.
Impossible to capture in just one or two words, Thoma is a psychologist, teacher, bartender, writer, activist, fixer, and photographer, originally from South Ossetia. His photos are to the eye what badrijani nigvzit is to the taste buds, and, beside the aesthetics, an apt and often humorous reflection of the city. The journalism he delivers for multi-media platform Chai Khana focuses mostly on unexpected topics or locations, and niches of Georgian society that trigger curiosity. Like Beso, Elene, George, and Levan, Thoma represents a generation of young Georgians who are compassionate, creative, full of great ideas, and whose enthusiasm and determination simply cannot be exhausted.
Feature photo: Thoma Sukhashvili