Lado Darakhvelidze, Caucasian History Lesson, P–OST Arnhem, 2022
Twisted and conflicted – different histories juxtaposed in Lado Darakhvelidze’s ‘Caucasian History Lesson’ at P–OST Arnhem
How to visualize the ideology that you were brought up in? – artist Lado Darakhvelidze’s solo exhibition at P–OST Arnhem tries to offer an answer to this question. Caucasian History Lession addresses the complex history of the Caucasus, a culturally diverse region that has over centuries been influenced by both Europe and the Middle East. The exhibition encapsulates a contested history and shows how different narratives intertwine with politics and imperialism.
When stepping inside the exhibition space you face a number of large blackboards featuring texts and drawings. With their faded white letters, black matte surface and rectangular shapes they recall traditional school chalkboards. Some boards can be flipped around, others seem to still lack some information. On view here is only a fraction of the overall project, which Darakhvelidze is still cooking up. The first version of this exhibition of this project took place in 2015. This updated edition contains new pieces, including not only chalk- and cardboards but also textile works.
Colorful drawings of historical figures such as Ekaterina II and Alexander II of Russia are reminiscent of illustrations you might find in children’s books. Darakhevelidze explains to me that what unites fairytales with history books is their shared effort at storytelling and their descriptive use of images. In this exhibition, the drawings contain a mix of different surrealist, metaphoric and symbolic meanings. Portraits of famous rulers are depicted alongside geometrical forms. The full body portrait of Alexander II of Russia wrapped in a blue Möbius sphere refers to the wind of change that began to blow in the 19th century Russia – the abolition of serfdom enabled the development of capitalism, as well as revolutionary movements in Georgia.
Text collages and drawings alternate each other in different alphabets and languages; ranging from Georgian, Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian to Turkish. Sometimes, different takes on the same historical event are juxtaposed. In such cases, the English language functions as a mediator. The artist uses history schoolbooks from various countries as his source material. He tells me that he has gathered these books over the years, with help of friends and colleagues.
Darakhvelidze tells me he realized that most of our knowledge of the past comes from the education we receive as children and teens – a version of history which he believes is curated carefully by the government. With his exhibition, the artist tells a different story. In fact, he teaches the visitor that many contrasting views of history exist at the same time. Everyone lives in his or her own information bubble, defined by a particular system of beliefs.
Recurring theme in Darakhvelidze’s work is topology: the mathematical discipline which researches shapes that do not change shape while bending and stretching, such as the Möbius strip (a two-sided surface twisted band) and the Klein bottle (an object without an identifiable ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, as they gradually merge into one another, but it is not an endless deterministic circuit of th eunity of opposites, as there is a discontnuity, a cut in its surface, it is a dialectic between outside and inside). He uses such topological objects to visualize the intricacy of Caucasian history; full of twisted and conflicting narratives of significant events. The Armenian genocide, for example, remains denied by Turkey but recognized by Armenia. Russian Empire expansion in the Caucasus is seen as a glorious success in the Russian books while in Georgian history it is perceived as a sad event – subjected to the international political gambles of the 19th century.
The work deals with the strategy of political leaders to associate themselves with historical figures in order to establish their credibility and power in society
In one of the corners of the exhibition space, the artist installed a three-dimensional representation of an ideological bubble. It hints at the significant way in which modern Russian leaders have supported military and separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia over the last three decades. Moreover, it deals with the strategy of political leaders to associate themselves with historical figures in order to establish their credibility and power in society. Cardboard figures of both contemporary and historical politicians intersect with one another. Peter the Great, founder of the Russian Empire, intersects with Vladimir Putin, who today publicly associates himself with this emperor. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia is cut through with Dmitriy Medvedev’s portrait; Medvedev’s soft, impressionable political persona is associated with the tsar’s inability to prevent the Bolshevik revolution. The last king of Georgia, Erekle II (Georgian monarch), who asked the Russian Empire for protection from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, intersects with the first president of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, who was a Soviet Foreign Minister under Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration.
As said, this exhibition is only a fragment of an ongoing project that will be finalized online. First and foremost, it is intended for the Caucasus’s peoples. The artist tried to bring them together and reflect on the different narratives that their governments support. Doing so, he attempts to look beyond the enmity between the nations in order to understand, rather than merely contest, each other’s ideological bubble.
Lado Darakhvelidze, Caucasian History Lesson, P–OST Arnhem, through 18.9.2022
All images by Koen Kievits
Maia Padurarustudies journalism at the University of Groningen