small enterprise / after school program
4 artisans / 11 students
owner & teacher: zaza gatenashvili
co/rizom partner since 2/2019
what is home?
Zaza creates objects that connect him to his roots.
objects that are covered in archaic symbols carved
deeply into the wood - relating to a world he has lost.
this is not a sentimental notion but a critical part of his identity & that of thousands of Georgian IDPs 'Internally Displaced People' from South Ossetia
who are now living in a settlement near Tbilisi.
Zaza is recovering memory - one movement of the chisel at a time - preserving knowledge while educating students & sharing the cultural traditions of his ancestors with the world.
andrei georgescu business development
nadja zerunian creative
susanna koeberle text. pauline thurn und taxis & alex levac photography. tamar kiknadze & maka dvalishvili local support.
Behind the hills, in South Ossetia, lies Zaza's home, Tskhavati. What is it like to know your hometown is so close and yet not be able to be there? Since 2009, Zaza has been living with other Georgians from South Ossetia in Tserovani, a settlement built for Georgians expelled from their country after the 2008 Caucasus conflict. South Ossetia is recognized as independent by only a few states, including Russia. The houses of Tserovani can be seen from afar, they all have red roofs and resemble one another. Internally Displaced People (IDP) is the technical-sounding name for people like Zaza. Two families have stayed in his home village, and his father still lives there too. But living in Tskhavati is not an option for Zaza as militias make life difficult for Georgians there. He is convinced that he will be able to return home within five to ten years. Life for Zaza and his community is about hoping for a new start back in their hometown. What does home mean? Among other things, Zaza finds it in the objects he has taken with him from South Ossetia.
Zaza proudly shows me his ‘museum’. He has set up a room behind the garage and exhibits items that are particularly important to the craft of wood carving. There are other artifacts representing Georgia’s farming culture too. Many pieces belong to his family. Zaza's father also collected some of these objects. The objects are no longer in use today but bear witness to old traditions. Such as the architectural element from the traditional Georgian house: a decorated timber pillar that is called the ‘mother column’ because of its supporting function. It looks slightly different depending on the region. Or the round container in which precious salt can be stored. Smaller chests, so-called Kidobani, could hold up to 60 loaves. The wood guaranteed a stable temperature. Carpets hang on one wall from which ‘museum director’ Zaza has attached portraits of Georgian cultural protagonists. The frames of the pictures are made out of knotted wood, mostly from the roots of trees. Queen Tamar, a ruler of medieval Georgia, is immortalized here, but also 19th and 20th century writers, artists or composers. These objects are part of his culture and foster a sense of identity.
The turbulent history of this country, in which so many cultures have been present, is reflected in the complexity of the architecture, art, craft and food culture. The history of Georgia reads like a mixture of fantasy and crime fiction; there is almost no other country that has been invaded and occupied so often. By the Romans, the Persians, the Byzantines, the Mongols, the Ottomans, and later, the Russians. In between there have been periods of independence. In 1991, after 70 years of Soviet rule, the country became independent once again and sought to join the EU. But the political situation is not entirely straightforward, as the so-called ‘Rose Revolution’ of 2003, the Russian-Georgian War in 2008, and the current unrest make clear. Georgia is strategically located, and today it is mainly Russia that has an interest in it (primarily so it can gain direct access to the neighboring state of Azerbaijan with its oil and gas deposits), but many trade routes, such as the Silk Road, used to pass through here according to archaeological evidence. The early cultural importance of this area is also clear from the traces of viticulture that have been found and that date as far back as 8000 BC. Georgia’s periods of cultural and economic prime can still be felt today.
Zaza's father was a woodcarver. He liked to pass on his knowledge and always had many students, Zaza recalls. He also taught woodcarving to children with special needs. Zaza began to take an interest in his father’s craft when he was about 13. His father would draw something and Zaza would carve it; it was a sort of learning-by-doing process. He worked on a big chest for almost six months. Today Zaza wants to contribute to the safeguarding of the craft as well. In the IDP settlement he teaches 15 to 16 students, most of them young men but occasionally some women also come to learn. Most students come to the workshop after their regular school day. The first step is imparting the craft’s history, then he teaches the theory because construction and composition have to be learnt as well. Understanding the meaning of the different ornaments is also important to Zaza, for example the spiral form, which symbolizes the sun rising. He wants to preserve this traditional design vocabulary because it is part of his community’s identity.
Georgia’s architecture reflects the balancing act between East and West that has shaped this nation’s character. Among its impressive attractions are many monasteries. Christianity has been the state religion since 337, making Georgia one of the oldest Christian nations in the world. First, we visit the 6th century AD Jvari Monastery, which is located not far from Zaza’s settlement. UNESCO added it to its World Heritage List in 1994. Tradition has it that Saint Nino, who brought Christianity to Georgia, built a wooden cross on the site. Later we explore the cave cities of Uplistsikhe and Dawit Garescha - early examples of Georgia's rich architectural culture - and the steel industrial town of Rustavi, an example of Soviet urban planning. There is hardly an era that has not left its architectural traces here. This is especially evident in Tbilisi. The city is located on a river and surrounded by mountains and has a very unusual topography as a result. In the capital, the juxtaposition of old and new stands out, and the almost palimpsest-like stratification of architectural accretions makes the 1.2 million-strong metropolis a fascinating patchwork and a hotspot for architecture lovers.
Text: Susanna Koeberle
Photos: Pauline Thurn und Taxis