It’s been only 2 months since Koka arrived from Georgia. He escaped with a fake passport. He got job somewhere in Brooklyn, low paid physical labor. But any job for an illegal immigrant seemed OK. He seemed happy. It was 1992, right after the war in Abkhazia and the civil war in Tbilisi. Everybody who could flee-- fled. We met couple of times at gatherings of Georgian immigrants. He was a tall and handsome man. He looked like a Hollywood star in black and white movies. He had degrees in architecture and physics. Soon after we met, I learned that he had killed his boss and was sent to prison – ‘23 to life’."
The Drunk Cowgirl, 1999
Eteri was a cowgirl in Georgian legend. One day she lost her cows in the forest. Prince Abesalom was hunting with his royal crew and found Eteri. He immediately fell in love and decided to take her to the palace and marry her. Murman, his servant and friend, also fell in love with Eteri. He gets a poison from a witch. He sprays Eteri with it and she sprouts worms from all over her body. Abesalom dies from grief. Eteri recovers, but she does not want to leave without Abesalom and commits suicide. So does Murman. There are operas and ballets staged in Georgia, depicting this legend. Eteri is not a fashionable name. It is a biblical name and means ‘star’.
July 4, 1997
Seductively arrogant she was looking at him time to time. He was standing steel, while holding the answer behind his gaze. They had to get away from each other. It was over!--- they repeated this in many fights and arguments… No, she could not let him go and nor could he leave. They’ve got so close over the years. All the cursing-yelling-insulting was forgotten. But this time they had to split. It was Independence Day, July 4 -- the perfect day to separate… perfect day as well to spend time together eating, drinking, smoking, dancing. Their eyes meet again, saying, ‘You are such a fucking beast; you can just fucking walk away, right? Fucking monster you are’.
They said she was running up and down the road, dressed in black dress with white flowers. She was dragging her children who wore fur coats; it was hot and the children were sweating. They said she made those little coats herself from an old coat.
They said she loved her children so much.
They said she threw them off the cliff of the Botanical Garden. No, no, no: she stabbed one with a knife and put plastic bag to suffocate the other.
They said she was crazy; that her mother-in-law used to humiliate her and her children would laugh at her.
They said that her husband was seeing another woman; that he’d often lose at cards, they had to sell the house and she was embarrassed.
They said she wore mascara and lipstick in the jail and would refresh herself everyday.
Unfaithful Wife, 2004
In ancient Georgia, women, who betrayed their husbands would be seated backwards on the donkey that would walk through the village as villagers threw mud and stones.
This is no longer practiced.
Late Guest, 2005
Men in Sakartvelo (Georgia) drink from horns, it is a tradition, they make toasts for everything: country, love, friendship, for the memory of dead, for newborn, for their grandmothers, neighbours, guests, for generosity... Drinking horns are small, medium and big. If the guest were late for the party, the size of the horn would reflect the number of toasts he missed. He would have to make toast that would include all toasts missed and would have to drink it all in one gulp, without resting the horn on the table. Toasting can go for the whole night. If the guests are fun, the evening could be unforgettable.
The tradition does not apply to foreigners and ulcer patients.
He could not earn for leaving, he was an artist. He doubted, that whole world rejected him, wife, children, sister, friends. He run disoriented any direction without extra pair of socks, with no coat. He wanted to disappear...Then he got scared. The fear of leaving them without his protection was larger then anything.
She tried to dance with the sword, like Georgian men---hands stretched, lifting on her toes… but could not move, couldn't balance. She thought she was loosing her brother. Instead of the sword, she felt rats crawling on her hands. She got scared too… Madness was dancing in her yard.
Black Sea, 2008
This painting is dedicated to the memory of Tatiana and Tamara Sotkilava, my grandmothers, who froze to death in mountains while escaping ethnic cleansing of Georgians by Russia during the war in Abkhazia. It is also dedicated to the memory of friends who died defending their ancestral homeland against the Russian invasion. Sokhumi is a city in Abkhazia on the Black Sea coast. That was attacked and occupied in 1992. In Georgian, Sokhumi means ‘hornbeam tree’. By 1993, the Georgian Black Sea cities of Ochamchire, Gagra, Bitschvinta, Otobaia, were also occupied. Sochi was taken by Russia in 1922. Sochi is a Georgian word for ‘fir’ tree.
We, the Georgians of our generation, ex- soviet ‘Pioneers’, we claim Abkhazia as our home. This painting was finished in July 2008, just weeks before the Russian 58Th Army attacked and occupied South Ossetia driving another 100,000 people from their homes.
During the Soviet period, a huge zinc sculpture of Mother of Georgia was placed on a hill overlooking Tbilisi. With her right hand she is holding a sword. In her left hand, she holds a cup of wine. Parents told us, that she symbolized the Georgian soul and carried a message: enemies are met with a sword -- guest welcomed with wine.
August 10, 2008; text messages between me and my friend during the 5 days war:
Sent: ‘They will bomb the whole country, Georgia will turn into a battlefield....retreat, surrender, do not fight…’.
Received: ‘Independence comes from the barrel of a gun. Che…’.
In early August 2009, right after the 5-day war between Georgia and Russia, which ended with violated borders and Russian troops on Georgian territory, Russia began discussing the purchase of a French-built Mistral- class 19,500-ton amphibious assault ship. For the nations adjoining Russia, this was not pleasant news. Possession of a Mistral ship would significantly increase Russia's offensive options and the vulnerability of states such as Georgia or the Baltic countries in the case of attack.
Selling a Mistral-class vessel to Russia appeared to be extremely hypocritical on the part of President Sarkozy's government, considering that this news arrived right after France had brokered the deal for a cease-fire between Georgia and Russia.
As a result, I created a Diver emerging from the waves of the Black Sea, after blowing up the Mistral.
On 3 September 2014, French President François Hollande announced the postponement of delivery of the warship, due to the Russia–Ukraine war, and later it was sold to Egypt .
Tamada in Georgian culture is usually a man, who sits at the head of the table, proposes toasts and orchestrates the dinner party. He is chosen, for his articulate story telling and the ability to hold vast amounts of alcohol. Tamada chooses the guests who will continue toasting and also announces the end of the party.
This painting is dedicated to the memory of my cousin, Malhkaz.
My grandmother Eteri sotkilava was born in a beautiful village called Otobaia, in Abkhazia. currently Otobaia occupied by Russian troops.
In Black, 2013
The morning was cloudy …
As she started the car, her eyes couldn’t resist glancing at the headline in the newspaper: "What exactly does Russia want anyway?...’’
She parked at her favorite place for croissant and coffee… Her eyes kept slipping into the article under the headline…
.... "Unfortunately, despite the call of the international community, the Russian Federation continues its violation of international law principles and obligations assumed under the ceasefire agreement.’’ Since occupational forces in the village of Ditsi in the Gori district, resumed installing barbed -wire fences"...
Its 3 pm. Guests will be arriving in a few hours. It’s time to set up for the Supra.
The Supra (diner Table)
From left to right: She carefully aligns the slices of smoked Sulguni cheese -- she refuses to buy from anyone but the same haggard farmer. The tomatoes, cucumbers, the shining green onions – nobody will eat them, she thinks to herself. But they are part of the ritual.
In an antique Russian porcelain bowl - green Tkemali -- green sour plum sauce mixed with crushed fresh dill, dried hot pepper, salt, ombalo spice, lots of fresh garlic...on the right side of the table, red Tkemali in a Japanese porcelain bowl.
In the middle she places the broiled chicken – there’s no time to slice it - maybe later neighbor Manana will help, her mind calculates…
Svanetian salt – ground up with dried hot pepper, powdered saffron, fresh dill…
Khachapuri -- dough made with yogurt, topped with melted cheese mixed with an egg…
A large plate with assorted Phkali: fried eggplant, beets, sweet red peppers and spinach mixed with crushed walnut…
A huge cake with a killer sugary egg yolk bought from the neighbourhood baker, Bella…
Khinkalli, very special dumplings with pork and beef and filled with onions, garlic, dried ground pepper and kvliavi plant…
Lavash bread -- baked in huge clay kiln, the old way...
Time to get dressed. She looks in the closet, gazes at the dress sprinkled with red dots she so badly desires to wear. But again, she puts on the black one instead and prepares her mind to greet the guest.
On the 40th day after the death of a loved one, in Georgia as all across the Caucasus, a big dinner called Ormotsi (40) is held to mark the end of the period of mourning – only after then may close relatives of the deceased take off the black dress; stricter keepers of tradition will keep the black on for exactly a year.
Ganda Brerundasana (The Terrible Bird), 2012
"The Terrible Bird " took for ever ... I traveled with unfinished painting from one country to another .. repainted it for few times and still was returning back to its original first version, erased out floating sunglasses and lipsticks, thought to get rid of the missile as well ,
Then, one day, stopped and couldn't go on ... the plane being brought down by a missile. The continuing controversy took over the news regarding the shooting down of the plane in Ukraine.
Many of the victims - because the plane blew up, literally fell 33,000 feet after it was hit.
My war correspondent friend wrote to me about this painting The Terrible Bird :
I wouldn't want it on my wall, not everyone wants to be reminded of violence..
Ashtanga yoga posture , Ganda-Bherundasana (Terrible bird in Hindu); Ganda Bherunda two-headed bird from Indian Mythology, terrible, frightening, said to feed on elephants ..
Ice Cream, 2013
Fighting and shooting went on for many hours in the streets of Sukhumi. A man driving a bicycle, selling ice cream from a box attached to the bike, entered the road. Confused and frightened, he froze, unable to move. Suddenly, the shooting stopped. Silence. From both sides, fighters dropped their guns, came out and bought ice cream. They returned to their hiding places, and a few minutes later, the shooting began again.
Abkhaz and Georgians lived together as neighbors for centuries in Georgia. They frequently intermarried, shared celebrations and social events, buried dead relatives together and toasted each other's health.
Nobody could have imagined that the beautiful multiethnic town Sukhumi with Greek, Gypsy, Turkish, Armenian, Georgian, Abkhaz, Russian, Tartar, would one day engulf itself into a brutal war between Georgians and Abkhaz. For decades there would be no peace nor forgiveness. Turned into a frozen conflict zone, the region was unable to solve their problems, exacerbated by the Russian Kremlin's geopolitical ambitions.
The land of Kollchi (presently called Abkhazia), the west part of present Georgia is where Jason went to recover the Golden Fleece and married Medea, was once more "popular" for this war that turned the subtropical paradise into a war torn rubble. The war's conclusion left Russian troops on Georgian terrority and left a few hundred thousand refugees in exile.