Would you agree with the 4 out of 10 men in Tbilisi who think that LGBT people are the most undesirable neighbours you could possibly imagine?
In such an environment, coming out certainly is not an easy task, but Georgian photographer Lasha Fox Tsertsvadze wants to encourage individuals to challenge this suffocation. He aims at mapping out oppression through his work, and finding freedom through photographing his own body along with others. “My message with my photos is that there is no big deal to be free. You just need to jump and you will fly. No bird can fly without falling from the tree once.”
Hailing from the Tbilisi suburbs, Lasha created his niche entirely by himself. No established community background, no artist parents, not necessarily a creative, inspiring, and certainly no well-off environment to grow up in: Lasha is a member of the marginalized class forgotten about in Georgia’s free market revolution. Working shit jobs for even shittier pay, and using his free time and spare money to educate himself as a photographer, to practice, create, and explore. He is an artist that must contend with a society that oppresses his sexuality and an economy indifferent to his plight, the embodiment of the organic intellectual. Through time, he got more and more comfortable working with body image, repressed sexuality, and challenging the norm through his photography, carving out a truly unique, personal style whilst doing so. His work is so much more than the documentation of a gay man in Tbilisi, it rather is an act of liberation.
At Post Pravda, we are long time fans of Lasha’s work, but we feel this is only the beginning of his ground-breaking and striking work. Growing up in a country with very strong traditional norms and behavioural patterns, Lasha is battling the intersectional oppression of inequality, homophobia, and oppressed sexuality – all of which are sustained and propagated by the state and the church – using nude and homoerotic photography. The importance of religion in Georgia, plus the Soviet legacy of propagating heterosexual relationships and repressing sexuality (“There is no sex in the USSR”), especially that which deviates from the traditional ‘norm’, has left the LGBT community feeling insecure, threatened, marginalized, and persecuted.
Using queer erotic photography to stand up against the conservative norm instead of just accepting it, Lasha sees his work as a way of protesting politics getting involved with people’s sexuality. In the same way that conservative norms look to subjugate the body, Lasha treats the body as the domain of his protest. Lasha’s work is looking to liberate oppressed bodies by showing them in their purest and most free, yet highly vulnerable form: nude. Portraying the body in mostly undistinguished apartment buildings gives his work a hush undertone whilst denoting private spaces being one of the few consistently safe spaces to be queer in Georgia. The conservative setting reflects the hatred that permeates beyond the four walls of the apartments Lasha finds himself in.
Not everyone is appreciative of his arts, though. Lasha saw his Facebook account getting blocked due to “showing my faggot ass”. Instagram removed some of his photos for showing (amazing fiery red) pubic hair. And despite him trying to obey with the community standards of social media pages, still his work regularly gets reported and, consequently, removed.
“I want to show people that you should aim to be free, and be proud of your identity”, Lasha says. As he is ageing, Georgian society becomes increasingly sexually confident, and as his social circle is expanding, it gets easier for him to find people who are proud of their bodies and their identities. Whereas he used to struggle finding candidates for his nude photography due to a more complex-laden social surrounding, these days he finds it relatively easy to document people who are “willing to show others how good they are, and how cool their lifestyle is”. Not only a new wave of artists is evolving, challenging Georgian heteronormativity, a new generation of Georgians is getting more comfortable with their sexuality, too.
Times thus slowly seem to be changing. People used to claim there are no gays in Georgia, but awareness is growing, and now eyes are being opened about diversity, Lasha tells. This growing openness and tolerance is closely connected to the blooming club culture in the country, with clubs like Bassiani attracting a lot of international attention. Bassiani even hosts regular highly anticipated queer nights, and has put Tbilisi on the global rave map. Young Georgians find this queer culture increasingly interesting, and are curious and eager to explore environments where it thrives. It is often perceived as cool, Lasha observes, and associated with freedom and hedonism, such as going to clubs, doing drugs, and having a diverse and beautiful circle of friends: “…so people who want to go to clubs, have to be nice to LGBT people.”
The diversity issue, however, stretches way beyond sexuality. It is not only important to show diversity of sexual orientation, but also different bodies. Lasha, as a striking pale-skinned, green-eyed redhead, used to deal with body image-related complexes himself. Challenging his own insecurity by taking photos of himself which are as real and honest as possible was the only way for him to convince others that nudity is completely natural and normal.
“I will never have the right to tell people that they have nothing to be afraid of (…), if I myself am afraid. (…) I used to let other photographers take my nudes, but now I understand that I am the only one who can capture what I really am, or want to be, or want to show”, Lasha says. This also accounts to the full-figured women he is shooting, to counter the current skinny beauty standard, and the diverse bouquet of dicks which are proudly featured on his Tumblr – the only social media account where he can post whatever he wants, without the fear of it being removed.
Other Georgian artists have joined Lasha in this young wave of photographers fighting for sexual liberation and confidence. For example, Omara Gogichaishvili, about whose documentation of Tbilisi’s sexual awakening we wrote before, has successfully been shooting the sexual curiosity of the capital’s inhabitants. Another emerging talent, Mano Svanidze‘s portrayal of transgender sex workers in Georgia is honest and beautiful. The country is discovering its sexual minorities, and those sexual minorities are demanding liberation.
For Lasha, this is only the beginning. He wants to keep challenging beauty ideals and heteronormative standards, and continue doing erotic photography. This is in sharp contrast to his early work, in which he used to avoid any genitals, as they are perceived as shameful in Georgian culture. Traditions, lack of education, taboos and many more factors were and are brainwashing Georgian people, he says, and he himself, as a photographer and a queer, is a victim of “Georgian masculine thinking”.
However, Lasha came to realize there is nothing shameful about the human body, and how this shameful perception of nudity exists only because society, religion and politics have nurtured this idea. “My personality is changing”, Lasha tells, and “my aesthetically view along with it. We are all born naked, and showing your body and being exposed to boobs, dicks, and vaginas is normal, if anything.”
In February or March this year, Lasha will get a personal exhibition in Tbilisi of his nude queer photography. To reflect the idea of Georgian masculinity, tradition, religion, and the “ugly truth”, he has named the exhibition GIORGI.