Art As a Tool for Social Change

The Untitled Gallery is a Tbilisi-based art space that aims to improve the social environment in the South Caucasus through its art scene. Together with the support of civil society activists, the Untitled is hosting numerous exhibitions and other educational and cultural activities. We’ve spoken to a co-founder of the Untitled Gallery, Giorgi Rodionov, to learn about his vision and approach to art and activism.

Hello, Giorgi! Please tell us how did you get the idea to open the Untitled Gallery? What did you want to achieve or show?

Hi. I’m into art since my childhood, since the moment I got my first camera. I was always interested in the society I live in, the way it’s built, and how it functions. We’ve opened the Untitled Gallery with two friends and decided to use this space as a platform where artists could start a dialogue on social issues the South Caucasus is facing.

I see art as a tool to bring about social and political changes through asking questions and exploring new meanings. The Untitled Gallery is just one year old but we’ve already managed to conduct several powerful exhibitions and events concerning human rights and various social issues in the region. We also aim to bring people from the South Caucasus region together: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, including Abkhazia and conflict-affected zones like Nagorno-Karabakh and so-called South Ossetian region. We don’t have an utopian vision that art will fix everything and bring peace, however, we believe it can be useful for starting a dialogue.

Author: Karen Khachaturov ​

Why is the name of your Gallery Untitled, what stands behind it?

Naming things, especially in the South Caucasus, can bring a lot of drama. Say, Sukhumi or Sukhum – what should we call it? Abkhazian people want the international community to call it Sukhum but for Georgians it’s Sukhumi. There are too many words  and names out there that can potentially lead to a conflict, so we decided that ‘Untitled’ will match our approach best. We feel it’s important to start every discussion jointly and with no labels. 

Can art exist outside of politics? 

Good question! I personally think that arts should not have this fancy status of not dealing with politics. If a creative work of any form doesn’t reflect any socio-political issue, I consider it a decoration. 

What comes first: art or artist? Do you rely on any principles or criteria when choosing artists and their works?

We always pay attention to the topics an artist is working with, be her professional or amateur. If he or she discriminates against people of certain nationality, sexual orientation, or based on other criteria, we will not exhibit this artist’s works. We might look for other ways to interact, such as inviting them to take part in a dialogue to understand this point of view better

What are the best moments in running a gallery? 

The best thing is communication with people outside of the art world. It makes me happy to hear from our visitors that some works or exhibitions made them contemplate on issues that would not cross their minds in daily life. This makes me feel we can actually work with attitudes of people in the region and bring about a change.

Once we had a photo exhibition exploring the nightlife of queer people of Tbilisi. It was called The House of Stars and consisted of photographs taken in Bassiani (a techno club in Tbilisi, ed. note) that hosts LGBTQ+ parties which can be perceived by some people as rather provocative. Among other visitors, there was an elderly lady who was rather confused by this aesthetic. I tried my best to explain her the concept of queer parties and why this is important for our society. By the time she was leaving the Untitled, she was like: “Oh my God, I love these guys!”. I think it was quite a good day for the gallery.

Author: by Daro Sulakauri and Hitori Ni from the Club Scene of Tbilisi

Who inspires you and could be an inspiration for others?

Out of people known internationally, it is definitely Tanya Bruguera. She’s a legend!

And in our region there is plenty of interesting artists… Say, Mariam Natroshvili and Zura Tsopurashvili.

What are you working on now?

During isolation and crisis art, design, and performance can become a powerful tool for connection and offer an alternative to the disorienting reality. So we’ve announced an open call, Locked Untitled, where everyone was welcome to caption their perception of being in isolation and send the pictures to use. For now, we publish the received works in our social media and, once the quarantine is over, we will announce an exhibition date.

Author: Kajaia Ani. Tbilisi, Georgia

Author: Vanessa Li. Hong Kong

Authors: Miratcan Gence and Leyla Niyazberdıyeva. Ankara, Turkey

I also have created a podcasting project about dreams. Follow us and you’ll know more!

I hope this madness finishes soon and we’ll shake hands and hug again.