Mother of Georgia – Tbilisi

Mother of Georgia from Tbilisi old town

Mother of Georgia from Tbilisi old town

Mother of Georgia – Tbilisi

Kartlis Deda, the 20m high, aluminium statue that presently stands on the top of Sololaki hill, overlooking the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, is the work of the sculptor Elguja Amashukeli.

And that seems to be all that is agreed upon by those who make reference to one of the most notable landmarks in Tbilisi. When I decided to write about this statue I thought it would be an easy and straightforward exercise – a few facts, a slide-show and them move on to the next topic. But that’s not the case.

To explain.

The Name

Kartlis Deda is the transcription from the Georgian to the Roman/Latin alphabet but there’s no agreement on what should be the English translation. Most references like ‘Mother of Georgia’ but that version presents difficulties when considering what the image represents to the population of the country. This translation gives the impression that the Mother gave birth to the country – strange but in pre-historical mythology even stranger ideas were considered valid.

Contrast this interpretation with ‘Mother Albania’ – the name given to the statue which stands high above the city of Tirana, Albania, in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery. Here ‘Mother Albania’ stands as a protecting symbol for all the people and it’s from this concept that we get the term ‘Motherland’. But I’ve never seen any reference to ‘Mother Georgia’.

It gets even more complicated. Another translation is ‘Mother of Georgians’. This suggests that she is the mother of all those who are genetically Georgian. The problem here is that Georgia is, and has been for centuries, a country that has had large populations who were not genetically Georgian. Now many of these people can trace their ancestors back generations, they would probably – in many ways – consider themselves Georgian but not according to the ‘Mother’. So we have a national symbol which doesn’t represent all the people within the national borders – potentially somewhat divisive I would have thought.

Then the third translation is ‘Mother of a Georgian’. This is even more complex. Which Georgian? A male or a female? Why was s/he chosen? And why doesn’t anyone know who s/he is? And why should that have any meaning for the millions of other Georgians (or the people who live in the country)?

The Symbolism

When it comes to the symbolism there’s even a difference of opinion here. There seems to be general agreement that the bowl she holds in her left hand symbolises hospitality, the welcoming of a stranger, or visitor, with a offering of wine – which was first cultivated in Georgia around 6,000 years ago.

The sword, however, has a couple of interpretations. One is that it is to fight off any enemies and that seems fair enough and possibly valid in the past. The other is that it represents the Georgians’ idea of independence and freedom. If the second interpretation is pushed then Deda will have to give up her sword – although Georgia is not too friendly with Russia at the moment they would dearly love to become part of the European Union – like most so-called ‘independent’ countries (or wanting to be countries) many ‘nationalists’ want to change one dominant power for one, more powerful, multi-state entity.

The Date

Next there’s even a disagreement about when the statue was erected. Many refer to 1958, as the 1,500th anniversary of the founding of the settlement of (what is now) Tbilisi. But in the only ‘authoritative’ source I’ve come across it states 1959 – in the Georgian text as well as the English translation.

Two Versions

Probably the most interesting point I came across in my research was the fact that what stands above Tbilisi now (whatever name it might be called in English) is not the same statue that was erected in 1958 (or 1959) – see, it starts to get complicated.

This reference is in a digital book entitled ‘Elguja Amashukeli – Sculpture, Painting’, published in 2013. It was a collaborative affair but the text is attributed to an Art Historian called Tamta-Tamar Shavgulidze with another Art Historian, Nana Shervashidze, as editor.

”The Mother of the Georgians’ also underwent changes later by the efforts of the author himself and became more womanly: the masculine image was transformed into a feminine one.’ p6

The original mother

The original mother

And here is the only picture I’ve come across of the original. Quite different from what we can see now and when comparing the ‘before and after’ the text by Tamta-Tamar Shavgulidze below makes sense.

'New' Mother of Georgia

‘New’ Mother of Georgia

‘In 1959, in connection with the 1500th anniversary of founding Tbilisi, he [Elguja Amashukeli] made a model for the monument ‘The Mother of Georgians’ which was erected in 1959. The monument was made of steel [this must be a bad translation, it would have been aluminium from a aircraft factory] sheets at the Tbilisi aircraft factory, while the base was a wooden sculpture which could become rotten with time. Besides, although ‘The Mother of Georgians’ had a symbolic charcater, Elguja was worried that he had failed to give his creation, so aggregated and original, the form of a round sculpture. That was why, quite a long time after, he worked on the sculpture for nearly one year, and as a result the subject remained the same although the face and the body became more feminine having acquired the elements of a round sculpture.’ p32

Unfortunately, there’s more confusion caused in the text of this book. The dates under the image of the ‘Old’ Mother are 1958-1963 yet the date under the ‘New’ Mother is 1995. Also when it comes to the 1995 statue it is called ‘Mother of Georgians’ whilst in 1958-1963 version she is called ‘Mother of Georgia’ – probably the most schizophrenic sculpture I’ve encountered.

‘I gave preference to the ‘old’ version,’ p6,

Shavgulidze writes, and I think I agree.

How Georgian sculptors portray the female body

Whichever version you look at the strange breasts (even more pronounced on version one) are ‘noticeable’ – perhaps where Madonna got her ideas. I thought this was a later, revisionist affectation but it obviously was accepted in a very public arena at the end of the 1950s. Whether this was following a Georgian sculptural convention that had been around for some time I don’t know. Yet another gap in my knowledge I’ll try to fill at some time in the future.

Mother of Georgia

Mother of Georgia

This also might make some of the points I made in reference to the young woman in the terracotta sculpture of telecommunications workers in Tskaltubo desiring of revision – again when there’s more clarity of the local conventions.

What is clear, however, is that this is a clear departure from what had been the tradition of Soviet Socialist Realism (as seen in Tbilisi on the facade of the Rustaveli Cinema) and whether this was as a result in the changing attitudes in the Khrushchev ‘era’ or just a maintenance of a local approach remains to be seen.

At least I haven’t seen anything as bad as the ‘modern’ statue of the Albanian People’s Heroine Liri Gero that appeared in Fier a few years ago.

Workers nominate for art prize

One other notable point that comes from this study on Amashukeli is that;

‘ .. ‘The Mother of Georgians’ was nominated for the Rustaveli Prize by the staff of the Kirov Machine-Tool Plant together with the Union of Artists and the Union of Architects.’ p5

After the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 the road to Socialism became rough but still, at least in the early years, there existed a situation where workers in a local factory were making nominations for an art prize. Where have you ever seen that in present day capitalist societies?

Another ‘Mother’

Although ‘The Mother’ is big in Tbilisi I haven’t been aware of seeing such statues in other parts of the country. Perhaps I’ve just missed them or if they did exist in the past they might have been victim of anti-Communist vandalism.

Mother of Georgia - Tskaltubo

Mother of Georgia – Tskaltubo

However, there is at least one example – and that’s in the spa town of Tskaltubo. On the east wall of the ‘It’s my business’ Sanatorium there’s a metal bas relief with the figure as ’rounded’ as the one in Tbilisi became. It’s high up on the wall and that might have saved it from destruction. In fact it looks down on and across the road from the telecommunications workers’ mural.

How to get to ‘The Mother of Georgia’/’The Mother of Georgians’/’The Mother of a Georgian’

The easiest way to get to the top of Sololaki Hill is to take the cable car from the southern end of Rikhe Park, on the other side of the river from the old town. This runs from 10.00 – 00.00 and costs GEL2.5, but you’ll need the Tbilisi Transport Card.

If you want to walk then head down Shalva Dadiani Street from Freedom Square, at the end turn left along Lado Asatiani Street for 100 metres or so to Betlemi Rise on the right that ends at a set of steps (view from photo at head of post). This is a steep climb but there are good steps all the way. Also passes close by a couple of churches and a half way viewpoint.

Mother of Georgia from footpath

Mother of Georgia from footpath

This approach also gives you the opportunity to have a reasonably close look at the statue from the front. Once at the top the structure is so close to the edge that when you are at the plinth and look up you are looking up Mother’s nose.

Mayakovsky in Kutaisi, Georgia

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky in Kutaisi, Georgia

Vladimir Mayakovsky, was born in Baghdati, about 15 kms south of the city of Kutaisi, in western Georgia, on 19th July 1893. Described by Joseph Stalin, in 1935, as

‘the best and the most talented poet of our Soviet epoch’

he also criticised the Soviet intellectual establishment of ignoring Mayakovsky’s achievements after his death on 14th April 1930 adding

‘indifference to his cultural heritage amounts to a crime’.

Mayakovsky and Marxism

Mayakovsky got involved in the growing revolutionary movement in Russia soon after moving to Moscow in 1906 and during that time developed a passion for the works of Marxism.

‘Never cared for fiction. For me it was philosophy, Hegel, natural sciences, but first and foremost, Marxism. There’d be no higher art for me than ‘The Preface’ by Marx,’

he wrote in his autobiography ‘I, Myself’.

And when he is writing about ‘The Preface’ he means that to Marx’s 1859 book ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’. But not all the preface, there’s one section that is almost hidden amongst some dry text which springs out at the reader as a work of poetry, beautifully constructed, with complex ideas but expressed in a clear and concise manner. It’s no wonder that, as an aspiring poet when he first read those words, they made such an impact upon the young Mayakovsky.

Mayakovsky and Russian Futurism

But for a number of years prior to the October Revolution he bounced around and, as he also wrote in his biography;

‘Revolution and poetry got entangled in my head and became one.’

In this period he was very much involved in the Russian Futurist movement, one of the avant-garde movements that developed in the early 20th century, which rejected the past and praised industry, technology, city living and speed.

Mayakovsky as a Socialist Propagandist

Immediately after the end of what became known as World War One 14 imperialist nations (who had been knocking hell out of each other for four years) invaded the young revolutionary Russia to assist the White reactionaries forces. Since the October Revolution they had been inflicting death and destruction in the Red (pro-Soviet) areas murdering anyone who had the temerity to stand up against exploitation and oppression. In this environment Mayakovsky threw his knowledge and skills into producing revolutionary propaganda to instil in Russian workers and peasants the determination to resist the re-establishment of the old order.

Ukrainians and Russians have a Common War Crime - Pan will not be the master of the worker

Ukrainians and Russians have a Common War Crime – Pan will not be the master of the worker

‘Art must be everywhere – on the streets, in trams, in factories, in workshops, in workers’ apartments’,

he stated and estimated he had created about 3,000 posters during the Civil War.

Mayakovsky and Lenin

Mayakovsky was a life long admirer of VI Lenin, the great Marxist and leader of the revolutionary Bolshevik Party. He showed his respect for the Lenin by producing a 3,000 line epic poem, called ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’ which was published in October 1924, nine months after Lenin had died on 21st January of that year.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin - a poem

 

The dual language version of the poem published by Progress Publishers, Moscow, in 1970.

 

Mayakovsky admired Lenin but such respect wasn’t always reciprocated.

On May 6th, 1921 Lenin wrote to AV Lunarcharsky (People’s Commissar for Education from 1917 to 1929);

‘Aren’t you ashamed to vote for printing 5,000 copies of Mayakovsky’s “150,000,000”? It is nonsense, stupidity, double-dyed stupidity and affectation. I believe such things should be published one in ten, and not more than 1,500 copies, for libraries and cranks. As for Lunacharsky, he should be flogged for his futurism.’

VI Lenin Collected Works, Volume 45, p138

However, on March 6th, 1922 Lenin said in a speech to the Communist Group at the All-Russia Congress of Metalworkers:

‘Yesterday I happened to read in Izvestia a political poem by Mayakovsky. I am not an admirer of his poetical talent, although I admit that I am not a competent judge. But I have not for a long time read anything qn politics and administration with so much pleasure as I read this. In his poem [Incessant Meeting Sitters] he derides this meeting habit, and taunts the Communists with incessantly sitting at meetings. I am not sure about the poetry; but as for the politics, I vouch for their absolute correctness. We are indeed in the position, and it must be said that it is a very absurd position, of people sitting endlessly at meetings, setting up commissions and drawing up plans without end.’

VI Lenin Collected Works, Volume 33, p223

Mayakovsky’s Death

Mayakovsky in 1930

Mayakovsky in 1930

On 14th April 1930 Mayakovsky committed suicide. As with any death of a ‘celebrity’ there’s a shed full of conspiracy theories surrounding the circumstance of their demise. I won’t be even going there. There is a somewhat prurient photograph of the dead Mayakovsky showing a blood stain in the region of his heart – an unusual choice of target in a suicide. Perhaps a sign of his vanity and didn’t want to destroy his looks.

Why Mayakovsky in Kutaisi?

During the period of Socialist construction – which effectively ended in 1956 after Khrushchev made his infamous speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU – Maykovsky was praised and respected for the work he had produced in times of crisis, i.e. the Civil War from 1917-22, as well as the efforts he made in the establishment of a new sort of writers organisation where ‘intellectuals’ would serve the people and not be the lackeys of rich patrons.

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

In the period that followed the denunciation of Comrade Stalin by Khrushchev at the 1956 Congress the revisionists in the Soviet Union then turned on anything that challenged the direction they wanted to take the Soviet Union – now a post-Socialist state. This meant that Mayakovsky’s involvement in the Russian Futurist movement was played up in an inverse ratio as his role in the construction of Socialism was played down.

Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union into an openly capitalist society – the inevitable consequence of the decisions made in the 1950s. Georgia split from the erstwhile Soviet Union and gradually relationships between the two countries got worse and this exploded in a short 5 day shooting war. Although the firing stopped the animosity didn’t and as a consequence many of the manifestations of the Soviet past were either destroyed or neglected (such as the monument to the Unknown Soldier and the statue of Victory in Vake Park in Tbilisi which has just been left to rot.)

And the same fate has befallen Mayakovsky. Even though he was born in Georgia, in a small village close to Kutaisi (where he went to school until leaving for Moscow in 1906) he was, and still is, obviously too tainted with the Soviet Union to have a statue of him treated with any respect. I can’t imagine that where it is now to be found (in the courtyard of the Kakabadze Fine Art gallery in Kutaisi) was it’s original location.

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

This courtyard is sometimes called (in the crass British guide books) as a ‘Sculpture Park’ but presently it’s more of a dumping ground for statues that aren’t politically acceptable (for whatever reason) to be on real public display. The courtyard is more correctly described as the designated smoking area for the art gallery staff.

Despite the above reservations it is a place to visit if you head to the art gallery. When I went it was the only place I could visit as although the gallery was nominally open it wasn’t to the public as ‘something was being set up in the gallery space’. (I think this was just an excuse that is given by museum staff when they don’t feel like making an effort. I encountered a similar situation in the Kutaisi Military Museum.) The only place I could visit was the courtyard.

But it was worth it. I’ll talk about the other sculptures in another post but here I want to concentrate on one statue – that of Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

It’s not in a good condition – but not as bad a condition as some of the statues who share the space. It seems to be made of stone – but not a particularly hard stone as the environment it has been living in for I don’t know how many years has not been very conducive to its preservation. There’s a fair amount of algae growing on the surface and this seems to be taking its toll. The courtyard doesn’t really get any movement of air and it’s probably quite cold and damp in winter – and even in summer the warmth from the sun is only there fleetingly and it can be quite humid.

This is where Vladimir now lives. For how long I, and I’m sure nobody, knows. As with the other damaged statues in the courtyard it might be the weather that really determines their fate. Once past a certain level of decay the expense of restoration would become prohibitive.

Mayakovsky - Kakabadze Art Gallery

Mayakovsky – Kakabadze Art Gallery

I would like to have know more about the statue; the sculptor, where the statue originally stood, when it was moved – but have been unable to come across any information so far. Perhaps on the next visit.

Location

The courtyard of the Kakabadze Fine Art Gallery on Rustaveli Avenue 8, just across the road and slightly to the centre of town from the Information Centre in the older part of Kutaisi.

GPS

42.2709

42.7008

Opening times

Monday – Friday 10.00 – 18.00

Entrance

GEL 1

Joseph Stalin’s private bath house, Tskaltubo

Spring No. 6

Spring No. 6

Joseph Stalin’s private bath house, Tskaltubo

Joseph Stalin, the General Secretary of Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, used to return to his home state of Georgia (in the Caucasus) to enjoy the benefits of the spa waters of the town of Tskaltubo – which was also a popular health resort for hundreds of thousands of Soviet workers and peasants – but if he was making this very long journey then surely he was returning to a site where he could enjoy the benefits on offer in the height of luxury, no?

Stalin wasn’t keen on air travel (from what I’ve been able to learn he only ever flew on two occasions, to the Tehran Conference and back in November/December 1943) and usually travelled by train – probably in a carriage similar to the one that is currently sitting outside the Stalin Museum in Gori. To make that journey to the spa town of Tskaltubo in western Georgia, therefore, was quite an investment in time and effort. Even today the journey takes at least two days and nights so there must have been something special awaiting him in Spring No 6 – the finest of all the spa buildings in the resort.

Spring No 6 is one of the few that are functioning in the town now. (Springs No 1 and No 3 are also functioning as of 2019 but they are much more modest structures.) However, the renovation of Spring No 6 has destroyed much of the original decoration from the time of its construction – apart from the main entrance portico and the entrance hall. In fact although very smart and clean the facilities that present day visitors use are somewhat sterile and lack any of the decoration I’ve seen in some of the ruined structures that are in and around Tskaltubo’s Central Park.

One area that has not undergone total renovation (there has been a replacement of the exterior windows as part of the general clean up of the building and also some work has begin on the ventilation system) is the room that I was directed to when I asked ‘Which was Stalin’s private bathhouse?’

I was directed to a woman who was sitting at a desk at the far end of the long, ground floor corridor that goes off to the right of the main entrance hall, running parallel to the frontage of the building. She had been asked to direct me to this special location.

It was with a feeling of suppressed excitement as I walked down the corridor. What was I going to see? What little hidden gem seen by relatively few people from western Europe (and many more from the east) was about to reveal itself to me? Surely the leader of the USSR, the country that had defeated the fascist Hitlerite beast only a few years before would be revelling in glory and have a private bathhouse rivalling those of the Roman Emperors?

Stalin was a megalomaniac and monster (according to the fascists he defeated, the capitalists and imperialist whose rule and control of the life of billions of people he constantly challenged, and those trotskyites, revisionist and social democrats whose lying and duplicity he spent much of his life uncovering and crushing with the necessary force) so what I was about to enter would be a grand arena, decorated in a manner paying homage to the Generalissimo.

According to the fascists, imperialists, revisionists and other anti-Communists Stalin would have surrounded himself with memories of his past actions – such as the destruction of the traitors, splitters, wreckers, renegades and fifth-columnists in the Soviet Union, the the late 1930s, before the imminent war against Hitlerite Germany.

Surely in the tiles on the floors and the walls there would be the severed heads of those internal enemies; Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev and other Party members who sought to undermine the iron unity of the Marxist-Leninist Party and colluded with the enemies of the Soviet people; Tukhachevsky who saw the Red Army as just another, more modern, army of Tsarism; the kulaks who sabotaged production in the countryisde and did everything they could to prevent the transformation of the agricutural economy through collectivisation; and the external enemies, especially the Hitlerite fascists.

And I was really interested in what sort of desk would be located in the bath house. Every picture (photo or painting) I’ve ever seen of Joe sitting and writing at a desk has had the caption ‘Stalin signs yet another death warrant.’ This was even when closer analysis of the actual document said ‘Dear Mr Milkman, no milk today’. I have never seen a semi-naked Joe doing this but if he spent so much time in such activities then he wouldn’t have wanted to have wasted time when he was up to his chest in warm spa water. So a desk which could have held stacks of pre-printed death warrants, a bunch of pens and gallons of ink would have to have been part of the architects remit.

My heart started to beat faster as I approached the woman sitting at her table at the end of the corridor. She didn’t speak but indicated a door way just behind her, on her left. I walked the handful of metres to the door and realised it was an ante-room.

But what an ante-room. If was about twice the size of my bathroom – and I live in a modest flat. How could this room cope with the large entourage that would have accompanied Comrade Stalin on his journeys. There was a window to the outside, in one corner was a single leather covered armchair but apart from that the room was devoid of any decoration – but with a parquet floor in a fairly reasonably condition.

Entrance to Stalin's private bath house

Entrance to Stalin’s private bath house

To the right another door led to a room with tiling on the walls and the floors. I took two steps to the door and had my first view of Comrade Stalin’s private bathhouse.

My first reaction was shock and surprise. I uttered a few words, I think audibly.

‘They’re taking the piss.’

In front of me was a tiny space – considering the size of the building. My first view was towards the corner of the room with two large windows at 90º to each other. I looked to my right thinking the main body of the room was there. All I saw was a tiled wall.

The room was about 6 metres square, with a high ceiling and with the walls covered in blue and cream ceramic tiles (some missing). There was some decoration on the walls but this was of a simple, geometric design. There was a walk way around the room which was covered in small square tiles that were set in simple geometric patterns, in places starting to come loose. In the centre of the room was a sunken bath, about 4 or so metres square. At one corner there were fours steps down to the pool with a tubular steel handrail on the left side. Around the edge of the pool were tiled covered concrete benches. There was no sign of a desk at all. But most shocking of all was the decoration at the bottom of the pool.

Stalin's jelly fish

Stalin’s jelly fish

In place of the images I had expected there was a mosaic of cartoon like jelly fish – with anthropomorphic characteristics. Four of these giant jelly fish were half out of the water and seemed to be about to attack a very strange creature (possibly representing a crab but if so it’s missing a couple of legs) which is sitting on a round patch of sand. In the water are cartoon fish and a huge number of starfish.

There were signs of renovation of the space, which seemed to have stalled. The only new work that had been completed was the replacement of the large windows – this would have taken place so as not to spoil the look of the facade of the building from the park. If the present owners follow their past practice then the jelly fish will go – that would be a shame.

The knowledge then crept up on me. This wasn’t a room built especially for one of the greatest leaders of the working class of all time – this was a children’s paddling pool.

But it was also Uncle Joe’s private pool. He is recorded as having been there some time in 1951. The search is on for photographic evidence.

Just goes to show that you have to be careful what you wish for. You will almost always end up being disappointed.

Location

Spring No. 6 is in the northern part of Tskaltubo’s Central Park, about a ten minute walk from the present day market in the centre of town.

GPS

42.3223

42.5989

How to get to Tskaltubo

Marshrutka number 30 leaves from its terminus on the western side of the Red Bridge, which crosses the Rioni River beside the main Kutaisi market. Closer to the market is the stop for a number of buses but you walk through that area (passing a cheap out door bar on the right) to cross the red painted iron bridge. The marshrutka will be on the left once on the other side. They leave roughly every 20 minutes. Cost GEL 1.20 (not the GEL 2 as in some guide books – although some of the drivers will take the GEL 2 and say nothing although others are honest). The price will be on a piece of paper somewhere, normally at the front of the vehicle.

Journey takes about 30 minutes to get to the centre of Tskaltubo. Once you cross the railway track (after 20 or so minutes) you are at the bottom end of Central Park. The marshrutka then follows Rustaveli Street on the eastern edge of the park passing the railway station and information office, the Municipality, Court and Police buildings, and then the entrance to the huge (now luxury 5 star) Tskaltubo Spa Resort all on the right. (The marshrutka takes the same route when going back to Kutaisi and can just be flagged down anywhere along this road.)

When you get to the northern edge of the park the road widens out and after passing the Sports Palace on the left and the now being renovated (although seemed stalled to me) huge Shakhtar Sanatorium on the right the marshrutka heads up to the main market. Get off when the bus turns right at the corner by the ugly, modern Sataplia Hotel. This is where you would look for another marshrutka if you wanted to go to the Prometheus Cave.

To get to Central Park go back along Tseretseli Street (not the road you came up), pass the mural of the telecommunication workers on your left and head down to a very wide road junction. Cross this wide expanse of tarmac towards an arch and at the open space at the top end of the park head south and pass by the right hand side of Spring No. 3. Continue south until you reach the white, side wall of Spring No. 6. The entrance is on the west side of the building.

Alternatively (if arriving by marshrutka) you could get off at the main entrance to the Tskaltubo Spa Resort and walk towards the back of Spring No. 6 through the park.