Reconstructing a country

In 2019, I was asked by the European Union Monitoring Mission’s Field Office in Mtskheta to submit snapshots and portraits of women at the forefront of Georgia’s development. The following photos are the result of endless hours walking the streets of Tbilisi, months of monitoring displaced communities, and uncountable conversations with people of all traits. They are the result of random encounters and stand as mare interpretations of life of women in Georgia.

Nested in the Caucasus, Georgia is a country of marvellous wonders. It is said that God reserved the land for himself and only gave it to the Georgians once he observed their hospitality. In 1992 and in 2008, the country experienced two short yet intensive wars - the effects of which are felt to date. The province of South Ossetia in the north and Abkhazia in the west made claims for statehood wounding the national psyche and exposed a diverse social fabric which is yet to come to terms with its heterogeneity.

At the time of writing, the country was arguably on a path of economic, social and political recovery. Yet, structural challenges, the bond of tradition and history have proven difficult to marry with an overwhelming desire to an ever-closer relationship with Europe. To a bystander, Georgia may seem as a perfect example of a nation in a protracted conflict with its own national ethos. Perhaps no better way of expressing the role of women than the feedback received on an early version of this essay.

”A significant section of populations survived through massive poverty simply because of Georgian women who migrated to various countries to "bring bread at home". I can think of so many examples where women showed remarkable creativity during and after the conflicts, and in the process of transforming the country from a Soviet to an independent state. Unfortunately, women's efforts are not recognised and are taken for granted. Unfortunately, everyday hardship and survival are not valued as the major force that enabled the country to digest and get over the troubled 90s. Moreover, women played incredible roles in terms of trauma healing and living with grievances, while the government could not provide any support in this regard. Women were crucial to maintaining the social fabric of the country in times of total mistrust and nihilism. And today women take an important role in civil society, in the education sector, etc. ”

While it is not difficult to be inspired and fall in love with the people of Georgia, it proved a challenge to choose photos that represented the contrast between tradition and perceived “modernity”. A number of photos from this essay were the subject of an EUMM exhibition on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2019. They were also featured as a story on Field Photography Collective.

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