An Underground Bridge to Georgian Collectiveness: Finding a Tribe through Collective Trauma

What is common and what differs between Georgian artist collectives of the late 1980s and those of today are among the questions explored by curator and researcher Vija Skangale in this text. The collectives Archivarius, 10th Floor, and Marjanishvili Theatre collective, or “Marjanishvilebi,” formed during a time of political transformation to directly address economic scarcity and social instability via collectivity, experimentation, and the search for new forms of expression. Project Fungus, which emerged in 2020 from a burgeoning underground culture scene, addresses discrimination against LGBTQUI+ people in Georgia as well as the homophobia and intolerance endemic to Georgian society using a collective platform to amplify a multitude of creative voices.

In this essay, I explore the idea that artist collectives emerge during times of social crisis followed by social upheaval.1Okwui Enwezor, “The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes,” in Collectivism after Modernism, ed. Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 225. Specifically, I discuss underground groups at work in the 1980s in the South Caucasian country of Georgia, including Archivarius, 10th Floor, and Marjanishvili Theatre collective, as well as the Tbilisi-based queer artist collective Project Fungus, which is active today. Although there are vast differences in the social, economic, and political contexts in which the three earlier groups and Fungus formed, parallels can be drawn between them, causing one to wonder whether their emergence is indicative of certain sociopolitical factors and shifts.

Collectivism as a Practice in the 1980s in Georgia and Traumatic Experiences of Political Turmoil

During Perestroika (1985–91), the period marking the end of the Soviet Union, the Georgian art scene saw an increase in underground, nonconformist artist collectives engaged in dialogue about the sociopolitical climate, its rapid changes, and worrisome uncertainties regarding its future. Subsequently, the collapse of the Soviet Union penetrated everyday reality as did the Georgian civil war (1991–93), which resulted in sharp socioeconomic decline and, for many—quite literally—a fight for life. The dire state of the human condition and feelings of hopelessness and existential crises turned Georgia into what one underground Georgian artist deemed a “Theatre of the Absurd.”2Mamuka Japharidze (born 1962), interview by Vija Skangale, November 28, 2020. Japharidze was an artist member of the underground collectives (see also notes 3 and 4). Amid the chaos of political divorce, young artists, bohemian musicians, unknown poets, social activists, avant-garde fashion designers, and even ordinary civilians metamorphosed into “actors” in what became, in effect, a grand spectacle.

Karlo Kacharava. Bread, Bread. 1988. Gouache on cardboard, 16 1/2 x 17 11/16″ (42 x 45 cm). Courtesy Karlo Kacharava Estate and Stuart Shave Modern Art
Karlo Kacharava. Humanoid. 1989. Oil on canvas, 48 x 39 3/8″ (122 x 100 cm). Courtesy Karlo Kacharava Estate and Stuart Shave Modern Art

In 1984, while still a student, artist and writer Karlo Kacharava (1964–1994) formed “Archivarius,” an art collective named for wizardly scholar Archivarius Lindhorst, a fictional character in the German Romantic novella Der goldne Topf (1814; The Golden Pot) by E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776–1822). Highly prolific, Kacharava rallied Georgian artists and thinkers of his generation through his drawings, paintings, essays, poems, and art criticism, and served as a bridge to Western literary and art worlds, whose output had been previously banned in Georgia. He critically engaged society in conversation about the art and political issues of the time, and in questioning the boundaries of art and society.3Archivarius (ca. 1983–84) included Karlo Kacharava (1964–1994), Goga Maglakelidze (born 1962), Gia Loria (born 1960), and Mamuka Tsetskhladze (born 1962). “Archivarius” gradually transformed into the “10th Floor” collective when Mamuka Tsetskhladze (born 1962), one of its members, was given an 18-square-meter (194-square-foot) studio on the 10th floor of the State Academy of Art in Tbilisi.410th Floor (ca. 1985­–86) included Karlo Kacharava, Mamuka Tsetskhladze, Oleg Timchenko (born 1957), Niko Tsetskhladze (born 1959), Mamuka Japharidze, and Temur Iakobashvili (c. 1958–c. 2017), among others. After a short while, the 10th Floor artists moved to the Marjanishvili Theatre, where they became the “Marjanishvilebi.”5The Marjanishvili Theatre collective (ca. 1987–91) expanded with the addition of Koka Ramishvili (born 1956), Guram Tsibakhashvili (born 1960), Lia Shvelidze (born 1959), and Gia Rigvava (born 1956), among others. Members of Marjanishvilebi were given studio spaces in exchange for creating theater sets. With limited access to art materials, they frequently used performance as a medium of expression, or cheaply available industrial paints, plywood, and other accessible materials.

Mamuka Tsetskhaldze in the Tbilisi History Museum, Tbilisi, Georgia, 1988. Guram Tsibakhashvili archive
Marjanishvilebi collective in the Marjanishvili Theatre Studio, Tbilisi, Georgia, 1993. Guram Tsibakhashvili archive
Militsia (police) questioning people attending an unofficial exhibition in a derelict Iveria underpass, Tbilisi, Georgia, 1989. Guram Tsibakhashvili archive
Group exhibition, VDNKh, Tbilisi, Georgia. Guram Tsibakhashvili archive

In December 1992, 10th Floor and Marjanishvilebi member Mamuka Japharidze (born 1962) performed at the Tbilisi History Museum as St. Sebastian. Covered in white chalk and tied with rope to a pillar, the artist presented himself to the public as a sculpture of the Roman saint. Although St. Sebastian is considered the patron saint of homosexuality, Mamuka used the religious figure to reference the chaos of the Georgian civil war. In religious iconography, St. Sebastian is depicted pierced by the arrows of a Roman legionnaire, rendering the viewer—who is in the position of an archer—the unconscious executioner.6See Mamuka Japharidze, Is (Tbilisi: Gallery Artbeat and Black Dog Studio, Tbilisi, 2021). By inviting the audience to look at both him and each other, Japharidze addressed the interaction between victim and abuser. After a thirty-minute performance in a semi-derelict space on a freezing cold day, the artist walked to the old Roman Sulphur Baths to wash himself clean. With references to the torturous nature of war, he also played with words and their meaning: in Georgian, romelia translates as “who is” and “Roman.”

Mamuka Japharidze. St. Sebastian. Performance, Tbilisi History Museum, Georgia, 1992
Mamuka Japharidze. St. Sebastian. Performance, Old Town, Tbilisi, Georgia, 1992
Mamuka Japharidze. St. Sebastian. Performance, next to sulfur baths, Tbilisi, Georgia, 1992

The artists of Marjanishvilebi utilized the power of their collective voice to endure the war, and produced exhibitions and performances to combat the societal depression that came with it. The Georgian art scene and cultural activities of the time were comparable to those in the former Yugoslavia, where neo- and post-avant-garde collectives grew out of political instability and crises.7For more on neo- and post-avant-garde collectives in the former Yugoslavia, see Dubravka Djurićand Misko Šuvaković, eds., Impossible Histories: Historical Avant-Gardes, Neo-Avant-Gardes, and Post-Avant-Gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918–1991 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006). Like conceptual artists in other Central and Eastern European countries, the underground artists in Georgia looked upon art as an idea and form of knowledge, and the role of the artist as that of an interpreter—which is logical given there was neither a public space that welcomed their exhibitions, nor a market for dissemination of their work.8See, for example, Margarita Tupitsyn, Victor Agamov-Tupitsyn, et al., Anti-Shows: APTART, 1982–84 (London: Afterall Books, in association with the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, 2017); Edit Sasvári, Sándor Hornyik, and Hedvig Turai, eds., Art in Hungary, 1956–1980: Doublespeak and Beyond (London: Thames and Hudson, 2018); Marko Ilić, A Slow Burning Fire: The Rise of the New Art Practice in Yugoslavia (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021); and Maja Fowkes and Reuben Fowkes, Central and Eastern European Art Since 1950 (London: Thames and Hudson, 2020).

The proliferation of nonconformist collectives in the 1980s was not only a response to the turbulent political situation in the country but also a way to swim against the currents of contemporary Soviet ideology. Following the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989–90, and Georgia’s declaration of independence in 1991, Georgian artists continued to organize underground happenings and exhibitions in reaction to the residual political turmoil and amid the ongoing shortages of electricity, food, water, and gas.

More than thirty years after regaining independence, undergoing civil war, and facing the most recent Russian invasion in August 2008, which left approximately 20 percent of Georgian territory under occupation, new counterculture collectives are emerging. This phenomenon raises an important issue in relation to the question I posed earlier about whether the presence of nonconformist collectives is indicative of a certain sociopolitical climate. And if indeed it is, what is at stake now?

LGBTQUI+ Rights and Counterculture Collectivism Today

If underground collectives of the 1980s were markers of politically turbulent times and intended to antagonize the Soviet regime, what is the current state of countercultural collectivism in Georgia in response to? Among the forces behind today’s countercurrent is discrimination against LGBT+ people and denial of their human rights, as well as the homophobia and intolerance endemic to Georgian society. In Soviet times, the Anti-Sodomy Law imposed prison sentences and hard labor for same-sex acts, which were not decriminalized in Georgia until 2000. Homophobia, as a result, is often associated with communism. Despite the fact that Georgia has enacted legislation that directly prohibits discrimination against LGBT people,9In 2014, Georgia enacted an anti-discrimination law prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation. It has also changed its code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Though Georgia has a relatively liberal legal system (when compared to the legal systems in much of the Caucasus), some critics have observed that much of it is merely symbolic, especially with regard to anti-discrimination laws. LGBTQUI+ and queer people are nonetheless discriminated against in the streets, and frequent targets of hate speech and physical violence.

Project Fungus,10Set up initially as a temporary project by artists Mariko Chanturia (born 1990), K.O.I. (born 1988), Uta Bekaia (born 1974), Levan Mindiashvili (born 1979), and David Apakidze (born 1998) to stage a queer art exhibition alongside Tbilisi fashion week, the group has expanded and evolved into a collective dedicated to combating oppression of the LGBTQUI+ community. which was founded in 2020, unites voices in a way similar to the collectives of the 1980s, but this time in response to the fact that many Georgians view the LGBTQUI+ community as destroyers of Georgian families and societal values, and that the Georgian Orthodox church, which promotes these prejudices, remains a powerful force within the country.11The Orthodox church is a powerful institution in Georgia and has a big influence on churchgoers. According to World Population Review, 83.4 percent of the Georgian population is Orthodox Christian. See “Georgia Population 2022 (Live), World Population Review website, https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/georgia-population. A key goal of Fungus members is to provide queer and feminist artists in Georgia and the Caucasus with a visual platform and voice that function both locally and within an international network.

According to the group’s manifesto, “The fungus thrives in damp and dark places. It plays a vital role in the ecology of the biosphere. By decomposing any organic matter, it creates rich soil. Like mushrooms, we do not often appear on the surface, but we grow strong underground and cause intoxication.”12Shared by Fungus members via email to author, December 18, 2021.

In June 2021, Artarea Gallery in Tbilisi hosted Project Fungus’s collectively curated inaugural exhibition BLUE. The term “goluboy,” which in Russian means “blue,” is widely used to refer to homosexuals in the former Soviet countries, but also connotes “sadness” in the English language. The sadness and trauma of the Georgian LGBTQUI+ art community was explored in the eight-hour exhibition, which was attended by more than five hundred people. The show was the culmination of a larger effort involving a research project about trauma within queer communities and a special issue of Indigo magazine focused on May 17, 2013, when during a peaceful demonstration against homophobia, demonstrators were attacked and injured by anti-gay activists and representatives of the Georgian Orthodox church—an event that left many members of the LGBTQUI+ community traumatized.

BLUE exhibition poster
BLUE exhibition view, Artarea, 2021


Text accompanying the exhibition and posted on Instagram reads:“The story of that square is filled with sadness, just like many other stories in our country and our region, where Queer people are stripped [of] their identities, spaces, dates, colors and portrayed as shameful, dangerous, and freaks. Queer people have nothing but loneliness, that follows them everywhere: in love, in struggles, at home, or in the streets.”13Project Fungus (@projectfungus), Instagram post, July 2, 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CQ0VpY-rlj_/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link. These words evoke traumatic memories expressed through artworks exhibited in BLUE.

Among the works shown was David Apakidze’s curtain installation, which he designed in collaboration with poet Ana Itanishvili, whose poems were printed on one of the curtains. This work, together with K.O.I.’s untitled Polaroid portrait series explores the visibility of queer people, who must conceal their sexual identity during the day but can openly express themselves in safe spaces at night. Visibility is extremely important when anti-homophobia rallies and community gatherings are held in Georgia as they often draw attention to the LGBTQUI+ community, which is extremely dangerous for its members.

David Apakidze x Paolannder. Untitled. 2021. Print on textile, 16′ 3/8″ x 6′ 1/2″ (500 x 200 cm)

K.O.I. Polaroids from untitled portrait series. 2021
K.O.I. Polaroids from untitled portrait series. 2021
K.O.I. Polaroids from untitled portrait series. 2021
K.O.I. Polaroids from untitled portrait series. 2021
K.O.I. Polaroids from untitled portrait series. 2021
K.O.I. Polaroids from untitled portrait series. 2021

The exhibition also featured works by Uta Bekaia, including Cosmic Kintos, which refers to entertainers in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Georgia who were considered homosexual and whose existence was widely accepted by society as queer. The artist appears as Kinto, who enchants the viewer with his dance; however, symbols in the artwork convey an even deeper meaning regarding Georgian national identity, queerness, and the darkness often associated with it. A performance by the artist appearing as Kinto was accompanied by three Gobelins made of rich Jacquard fabric with an old Georgian flag woven into them and the words “I see the darkness in your rooms” and “The sun please rise, the sun” printed onto them. It is paradoxical that despite the homophobia ingrained in modern-day Georgian society, Kinto culture and dance are widely accepted and celebrated.

Uta Bekaia. Cosmic Kintos. 2020. Installation view
Uta Bekaia. Cosmic Kintos. 2020. Installation view

Another Fungus undertaking, the exhibition Anti-Fashion, was held in Kyiv in parallel with Kyiv Art and Fashion Days in October 2021. Featuring a photograph of Akà Prodiàshvili’s Fuck Culture on the exhibition poster,14Aka Prodiashvili’s dress titled Fuck Culture was also featured in BLUE. The artist is addressing the issue that cultural institutions in Georgia do not support queer artists.   the show offered divergent perspectives on fashion—and its opposite: “Although anti-fashion as a subculture is opposed to fashion, it always becomes part of this culture and nourishes it. Similarly, queer culture, which in its essence often is in sharp conflict with the dominant culture, becomes the main inspiration of fashion and creates new values in it.”15Project Fungus (@projectfungus), Instagram post, October 4, 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CUmT2hAIt0d/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link. Throughout human history, clothing has been a means of self-expression, and it holds special symbolic significance for queer Georgians, who are targets of discrimination in Georgia. In a symbolic sense, it signifies belonging to a particular tribe. As the exhibition text reads: “For Queer people, who are one of the main targets of prejudiced culture, clothing takes on the concept and meaning of . . . armor. It also often indicates belonging to a particular community, a group, or a safe space.”16Ibid. The garment in Andro Dadiani’s work, for example, is an integral part of his artistic identity. Dadiani, who performs incognito and fights against homophobic environments explains: “I create all of my costumes from trash on the streets, or I find them there. When I approach the bins, I feel as if I am rescuing thousands of tiny, unloved, dirty microorganisms that attract my attention. I take them home and we share information, energies, and transform them into new forms. Masks are my portal to a new metaphysical realm where I can think and breathe freely.”17Extract from Andro Dadiani’s artist statement, shared by Fungus members via email to author, December 18, 2021.

Anti-Fashion exhibition poster
Andro Dadiani. Untitled. 2020. Photograph
Andro Dadiani. Untitled. 2020. Installation view
Aka Prodiashvili. Fuck Culture. 2021. Dress, spray paint
Aka Prodiashvili. Fuck Culture. 2021. Dress, spray paint

David Apakidze’s work titled Gilded fleece—a Colchian nonbinary character touches upon the theme of the body and explores the artist’s internal conflicts regarding his own identity as Georgian, which is both a part of who he is and a barrier to what he is. In a little golden sculpture, Apakidze’s depicts his own face and dead body (fleece), which does not have a gender assigned to it, and yet is magical and precious because it is soulless and objectified: “Gilded fleece is a queer body in a patriarchal society. A body with magical power. A body with political power. A manipulated body. A body that is a prosperity of the state. A soulless body. A poisonous body. A body not belonging to a soul that inhabits it. A social body, simultaneously unacceptable for society.”18David Apakidze, in conversation with the author, February 20, 2022.

David Apakidze. Gilded fleece—a Colchian nonbinary character. 2021. 3D-printed sculpture

Through its shows, Project Fungus focuses on traumatic experiences affecting queer communities in Georgia, using exploration of the human body and clothing as their means of expression. As a collective, they move between established disciplines, blurring the lines between contemporary art and fashion in navigating Georgia’s polarized society. While Fungus may provoke comparisons to underground queer culture in New York or Berlin, they strive to connect themselves with the wider queer network, and to organize their own resistance unit against LGBTQUI+ oppression in Georgia.


The Georgian artist collectives of the 1980s are also said to have emerged and organized themselves loosely but dynamically around their beliefs and resentments.19Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette, Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007). In response to the restrictions imposed by the Soviet system and, subsequently, the traumatic experience of the country’s collapse, the underground Georgian artists who lived through the Georgian civil war and suffered the severe socioeconomic decline that resulted, created collectives such as Archivarius, 10th Floor, and Marjanishvilebi. These artist groups reflected on the turbulent sociopolitical situation and archived their experience of those times through their exhibitions and performances.20It should be noted that this archival material is scattered among artists. Fungus reacts against the discrimination and lack of rights experienced by the LGBT+ community in Georgia today. Though the Georgian collectives of the 1980s and Fungus had/have different methods and historical, political, and socioeconomic contexts, they share similar positions of resistance to the flaws in the political systems under which—and societies in which—they lived/are living. These examples show the potential of collective action to combine forces, or in other words, form tribes. In contrast to the Soviet ideology of the collective endeavors that promoted unity over individualism, forcing collectivity, the late Soviet collectives and transition-period collectives, as well as today’s collectives, which are united by choice, have kept their individual artistic identities while joining together to cultivate resistance and an artistic response to oppression.

Relative to the transitional years of the 1980s and 1990s in Georgia, which were marked by social upheaval against Soviet ideology combined with political uncertainty, there are more obstacles in the 2020s worth mentioning—including current Georgian government and cultural policies that are provoking social and cultural uprising against the ruling party in Georgia and the cultural institutions that have reinstituted censorship.21Taming the Garden (2021), directed by Salome Jashi, was supposed to open in cinemas across Georgia in April 2022, but the screenings were abruptly cancelled after its initial premiere in Tbilisi. “Georgian authorities ban film critical of former prime minister,” ArtReview, May 9, 2022, https://artreview.com/georgian-authorities-ban-film-critical-of-former-prime-minister/. The late Soviet-period collectiveness brought with it significant upheaval followed by political change, and so the question arises: Are the activities of Project Fungus and those of other contemporary collectives signs of political turmoil brewing in Georgia?


  • 1
    Okwui Enwezor, “The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes,” in Collectivism after Modernism, ed. Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 225.
  • 2
    Mamuka Japharidze (born 1962), interview by Vija Skangale, November 28, 2020. Japharidze was an artist member of the underground collectives (see also notes 3 and 4).
  • 3
    Archivarius (ca. 1983–84) included Karlo Kacharava (1964–1994), Goga Maglakelidze (born 1962), Gia Loria (born 1960), and Mamuka Tsetskhladze (born 1962).
  • 4
    10th Floor (ca. 1985­–86) included Karlo Kacharava, Mamuka Tsetskhladze, Oleg Timchenko (born 1957), Niko Tsetskhladze (born 1959), Mamuka Japharidze, and Temur Iakobashvili (c. 1958–c. 2017), among others.
  • 5
    The Marjanishvili Theatre collective (ca. 1987–91) expanded with the addition of Koka Ramishvili (born 1956), Guram Tsibakhashvili (born 1960), Lia Shvelidze (born 1959), and Gia Rigvava (born 1956), among others.
  • 6
    See Mamuka Japharidze, Is (Tbilisi: Gallery Artbeat and Black Dog Studio, Tbilisi, 2021).
  • 7
    For more on neo- and post-avant-garde collectives in the former Yugoslavia, see Dubravka Djurićand Misko Šuvaković, eds., Impossible Histories: Historical Avant-Gardes, Neo-Avant-Gardes, and Post-Avant-Gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918–1991 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006).
  • 8
    See, for example, Margarita Tupitsyn, Victor Agamov-Tupitsyn, et al., Anti-Shows: APTART, 1982–84 (London: Afterall Books, in association with the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, 2017); Edit Sasvári, Sándor Hornyik, and Hedvig Turai, eds., Art in Hungary, 1956–1980: Doublespeak and Beyond (London: Thames and Hudson, 2018); Marko Ilić, A Slow Burning Fire: The Rise of the New Art Practice in Yugoslavia (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021); and Maja Fowkes and Reuben Fowkes, Central and Eastern European Art Since 1950 (London: Thames and Hudson, 2020).
  • 9
    In 2014, Georgia enacted an anti-discrimination law prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation. It has also changed its code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Though Georgia has a relatively liberal legal system (when compared to the legal systems in much of the Caucasus), some critics have observed that much of it is merely symbolic, especially with regard to anti-discrimination laws.
  • 10
    Set up initially as a temporary project by artists Mariko Chanturia (born 1990), K.O.I. (born 1988), Uta Bekaia (born 1974), Levan Mindiashvili (born 1979), and David Apakidze (born 1998) to stage a queer art exhibition alongside Tbilisi fashion week, the group has expanded and evolved into a collective dedicated to combating oppression of the LGBTQUI+ community.
  • 11
    The Orthodox church is a powerful institution in Georgia and has a big influence on churchgoers. According to World Population Review, 83.4 percent of the Georgian population is Orthodox Christian. See “Georgia Population 2022 (Live), World Population Review website, https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/georgia-population.
  • 12
    Shared by Fungus members via email to author, December 18, 2021.
  • 13
    Project Fungus (@projectfungus), Instagram post, July 2, 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CQ0VpY-rlj_/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link.
  • 14
    Aka Prodiashvili’s dress titled Fuck Culture was also featured in BLUE. The artist is addressing the issue that cultural institutions in Georgia do not support queer artists.
  • 15
    Project Fungus (@projectfungus), Instagram post, October 4, 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CUmT2hAIt0d/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link.
  • 16
    Ibid.
  • 17
    Extract from Andro Dadiani’s artist statement, shared by Fungus members via email to author, December 18, 2021.
  • 18
    David Apakidze, in conversation with the author, February 20, 2022.
  • 19
    Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette, Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).
  • 20
    It should be noted that this archival material is scattered among artists.
  • 21
    Taming the Garden (2021), directed by Salome Jashi, was supposed to open in cinemas across Georgia in April 2022, but the screenings were abruptly cancelled after its initial premiere in Tbilisi. “Georgian authorities ban film critical of former prime minister,” ArtReview, May 9, 2022, https://artreview.com/georgian-authorities-ban-film-critical-of-former-prime-minister/.

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