Thursday, February 11, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
The reception for Holiday Moments was a success! Like a big party in which one can both be and watch the wallflowers, an exhibition reception is a public experience with intellectual aspirations. But if I could have shadowed each visitor to find out what their true thoughts were on each photograph, I would have. Alas, I was needed to explain the show and to acknowledge the many friends, old and new, who arrived to show their support.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Friday, September 18, 2009
"miuxedavad mravalsaukunovani arsebobisa, Tavganwiruli brdolisa Tavis gadarCenisaTvis, radganac maT upirispirdebodnen mZlavri imperiebi qavqasiis geopoliTikuri mniSvnelobis gamo, qarTvelebma SeinarCunes, da rac mTavaria, SeinarCunes originaluri, mravalmxriv gamorCeuli qultura. qarTvelebma TavianTi ofliTa da sisxliT Seqmnes sakuTari yveyana. arc erTi goji, sxvisi micisa, ar miuTvisebiaT da dRemda inarCuneben enas, tradiciebs da yvelafer imas, rasac kulTura hqvia.”(Shengelia 2007)
[Despite a many-centuries existence and selfless suffering in the pursuit of survival, which also brought them face to face with incredibly strong empires due to the geopolitical importance of the Caucasus, Georgians have survived, and most importantly created an original and multi-faceted culture. With their blood and sweat they created their country. Without appropriating an inch of land that was not theirs, they have retained today a language and all traditions which one calls culture.]
It seems that “crossroads” is an increasingly popular way to bring the hybridity of the past into a 21st century context. Like the Mumbai mega mall you see above, the crossroads theme heroicizes the ethnic struggles behind many a social history, recognizing the diversity without bringing up the messy details. In this entry, I call up the use of crossroads to describe Georgia, from the conference circuit to the media, the crossroads theme brings to Georgia a comprehensibility for Western onlookers. The crossroads I reference here is not the sense of juncture where one is forced to make a decision but rather the juncture where peoples meet and interact. This is the kind of juncture that is taught to young Americans in order to understand early European encounters in North America. As for Georgia, this latter sense of crossroads is entirely apt as the country indeed lays between two world areas, grossly overgeneralized though they are, the East and the West. One could even argue that Georgia is the liminal point between East and West, neither here nor there but somewhere in between. But I will not venture in this particular direction here but rather clear the grounds between crossroads as a reality and the use of the term as a strategem of representation.
The urban center of Georgia, the capital Tbilisi, is set in a river valley between two mountain ranges. Its name - “place of warm[th] or warm water” – refers to the sulphurous hot springs that rise up from subterranean water table, adding to the city an allure of invitation and comfort. The importance of locale is undeniably important. As stated in the above-mentioned passage from a child’s history book, geopolitics is Georgia’s achilles heel, a weakness as well as an opportunity to create an “original and multi-faceted” culture. For centuries Tbilisi, or Tiflis as it was referred prior to the Soviet period, was a lively center of trade, the seat of Eastern Georgian authority, and eventually the place where intellectuals met to craft the idea of a modern Georgia. Tbilisi was also a place from which one could also easily retreat into higher lands and thus escape whichever enemy or inconvenient political condition was at hand.
Physically, to the north the Caucasus Mountains with their immense altitude were made reasonably passable only with the upgrading of the Georgian military pass with Russian imperial interventions in the 19th century. The mountains had for millenia meant refuge as well as isolation for the various tribes and peoples of the Caucasus, resulting in tremendous linguistic variety in the Northern Caucasus. Even today, one sees a kind of highland-lowland cyclicity in the Georgian preference to leave Tbilisi and even if it is just for a few weeks to give their children a short respite from the heat and go to cooler mountain areas (although this seems to be changing with the advent of cheap airline tickets and eased travel restrictions to the Mediterranean). To the South, the lower Caucasus mountains are the more traversible range but they still represent the cultural divide between Georgia and its longstanding others: Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan or in earlier times the ominous force and influence of the Ottoman and Persian Empires.
By moving through the lands which represent modern-day Georgia today one could in effect go from Eurasia to the gates of the West. This was was the culminating thread of the famous “Silk Road.” In this last leg, one met with fertile highland plains where wine had been produced for several centuries by the people of this area, the “comely” Georgians, who in their own language refer to themselves as Kartvelians. One could bed down in the city of Tiflis - staying in a caravansaray while unloading and/or adding to one’s goods - and then continue on to West Georgia and thence to the Black Sea. Here merchants of many origins waited to trade and/or faciliate the continued movement of these goods to the Western worlds beyond.
What kinds of social meanings accrue over time due to the multiple and various kinds of cross-cultural encounters that occurred in the Southern Caucasus? This issue of interculturalism can be approached from at least a few directions and depends on what area of the world and thus what sociopolitical context you are looking at. There is a power approach, especially apt where contact involves a stronger and weaker group, as in imperial or colonial contexts. Another approach looks at the longstanding interactions between otherwise equal but territorially or culturally distinct groups. This approach acknowledges a group-based interest which makes distinctions between the self and “the other” rather having these meanings imposed from above (Barth 1969). Much theorizing over the past quarter century assumes the constructed aspect of community identity. In other words, whether initiating from within or outside the group, moves are made which construct the character of a group, community, or nation. These moves can be works that represent the group, behaviors, and social conditioning that occur at many levels of social contact.
Suffice it to say, this is quite a dense subject and much of my work will be devoted to making sense of the relationship between behavior as I witness it in everyday life and memory, history, and the social stereotypes that come handed down with these histories. For instance, it is significant to note that “appropriative” as you can see in the Georgian history quote above is not the way Georgians see themselves but rather how they view the communities around them, the always encroaching Turks, the acquisitive Russian Empire, the mercantile Armenians, etc. They are the sedentary ones, the ones who stayed in their place, selflessly and bravely fighting tyranny from outside yet a people whose creative and practical energies maintained an essential Georgianness despite the absorption of foreign characteristics. Some photos I have taken in and around Tbilisi capture those aspects of past and present that make it a kind of cultural catchment zone, a repository of tastes and sensibilities that can make it attractive to many people.
This is an aspect of my research that I find the most interesting, developing an observational eye for the phenomenological grounds in which people meet and communicate. I want to observe these interactions in their very basic components, the direct apperception of one being for the other whether . through various mediums of social life, interpersonal, educational, media-based, recreational, family-based, and so on. At this level, the human being functions at one of the most basic levels of the intellect, that of recognition.
As French theorist, Merleau-Ponty states:
"The self sees the other through the body: Since I cannot have direct access to the psyche of another, for the reasons just give, I must grant that I seize the other's psyche only indirectly , mediated by its bodily appearances. I see you in flesh and bone; you are there. ...Here one wants to speak of the notion of cenesthesia, meaning a mass of sensations that would express to the subject the state of his different organs and different bodily functions. Thus my body for me, and your body for you, could be reached and be knowable, by means of a cenesthesic sense." (Merleau-Ponty 1964: 114)
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
In June, I was contacted by another researcher doing similar work to mine in Tbilisi about a conference in September. The deadline for conference abstracts was May 20th, but I was told I could send something by the 20th of August. Tomorrow!
I'm exhausted but here is my abstract. The theme of the conference, co-organized by Tbilisi State University and Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany is "Changing Representations of Social Orders."
Tbilisi’s Cultural Heritage as Resource in the Global Era
Hülya Sakarya / Temple University
Georgia is uniquely positioned to advance the idea of the modern global city. Cultural heritage programming in Tbilisi – the reorganization of the Georgian National Museum against the contemporary European and American model, the promotion of Abanotubani as a historic haven, and the maintenance of diverse places of worship – promises Georgia’s compliance with global standards and understandings of civil society practice and inclusion. But what are the prospects for such an orientation in the cultural heritage industries of Tbilisi? What are its political and social implications for the country? This paper will address the interstitial nature of cultural heritage programming in Tbilisi today and the domestic and international role it plays with respect to recent military conflicts. While the culture industries remain an impotant way in which Georgians assert their identity and cultural pride, Georgia’s management of this potent technology is linked to the idea of culture as resource, or as George Yudice states, the uses of culture in the global era (Yudice 2003). Put in this perspective, nationhood is less understood as a yardstick of a community’s authenticity, territoriality, or historicity than its strategic position within the global ecumene.
I figure that by the date of the conference (end of September) I can make some preliminary observations. There is plenty to observe. Although anthropologically speaking, I have not spoken to enough "average Giorgi's or Nana's on the street" to understand the people's own perception of heritage as it is presented through the technologies and industries of the state.
One of my preliminary observations is of the "peopling" of Georgia through street sculpture like the one shown above. They seem to be creeping into every avenue, square, and bridge in Tbilisi. The one above is from the Ethnographic Museum.
Monday, August 17, 2009
I am a writer and observer as well as a student who is conducting her dissertation research in Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. The next seven months promise a wealth of information as I troll the collections of Tbilisi's museums, visit exhibits and festivals, patronize thousands of years old sulphur baths, and with growing expertise talk to Georgians in their bafflingly complex Kartvelian language. Although this work contributes to the study of the Caucasus as a world area, it is also very much about the impact of the West on how we perceive the nation. It is about those human constituents that make up the modern nation-state, who deserve to lay claim to the nation as their “own” and whom the nation itself must determine as its own.
Places like Georgia are directly linked to West through their acceptance of aid, but they are also impacted through the symbolic forces of style, film, television, and marketing. My goal is to understand how in this current atmosphere the Georgian heritage industry is at a crossroads, caught between the desire to authenticate the Georgian idea of itself as a continuous and ancient society and the Western liberal idea of the modern democracy. This area of the world is a natural laboratory, an exciting place to be and one of the most culturally pluralistic locations in the world, but foremost it is an excellent opportunity to encourage the asking of questions, the fountainhead of greater wisdom (see my footnote below on my academic and funding status).
Like many an anthropology student, I am enamored with difference. I want differences to persist and I think the world is a better world for it. Just as we may mourn the passing of a species of animal or organism, we may mourn the loss to a community when its mother tongue is no longer spoken. This was how the last Ubykh speaker was mourned in 1992. But I also acknowledge critical late 19th and 20th c. philosophical insights that demand we recognize reality as a constructed thing. As the post-struturalist thinker Homi Bhabha once said, “Nations, like narrative, lose their origins in the myths of time and only fully realize their horizon in the mind’s eye” (Bhabha 1990).
I belong to the visual ilk of the cultural branch of anthropology. We take a lot of pictures, look at other societies' aesthetic and expressive products, and use these tools to present stories and bridge gaps between ourselves and the people we observe. I often use pictures in the classroom as a literal and figurative demonstration of the limits of pictorial representation. Pictures, like Bhabha’s definition of the nation, convey the ambiguity of any attempt to construct or preserve reality. Nonetheless, writing and elucidating upon these ambiguities is very productive, especially in such controversial social settings as the Caucasus, and I have written a short essay on this subject in a professional newsletter (Sakarya 2008). For further reading, the Society for Cultural Anthropology provides interesting essays, links, and teaching materials on the Caucasus, visual anthropology and many other topics.
I inaugurate this blog by submitting a pair of images meant to convey the rapid changes underway in Georgia. The first picture, the "before" photo, conveys the remoteness of the Soviet past for the Western observer, its fixed monumentality and militant associations as soldiers practice formation in front of this Andropov-era sculpture (this photo was in fact taken in 1996, seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union but visually the association is still intact). The second picture nine years later conveys a 21st century spirit of reform and rebuilding. Together the images show the profound effects of collapse and the ensuing state of uncertainty and anticipation.
* I am funded by the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS and research for this blog was supported in part by the program it administers - the Title VIII Combined Research and Language Training Program, which is funded by the U.S. State Department, Program for Research and Training on Eastern Europe and the Independent States of the Former Soviet Union. The opinions expressed herein are my own and do not necessarily express the views of either the U.S. Department of State or American Councils.
Bhaba, Homi (1990). Nation and Narration. Routledge and Kegan.
Sakarya, Hulya (2008). “Research in a Politically Changing Caucasus”, Anthropology News, Society for Visual Anthropology Column, April 2008.