Friday, May 10, 2013
Betlemi Quarter is one of the most important historical parts of Tbilisi, where people of different ethnic groups lived throughout years. It was revitalized by ICOMOS Georgia and local community. Project addresses the issue of displacement and “migrants’” lives through transforming their household and foodways in the engaged artistic works, transforming their stories and private space into public. During the project we worked with people of three different ethnic families, which have been living in Betlemi Quarter for generations - Greeks, Armenians and Jewish. 

It is a popular understanding that Tbilisi has been multi-cultural ever since its existence and people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds have lived here in peace. This might be referring to 'the traditional groups' living in here, but again recent changes in the history, political developments and gentrification processes show active displacement of these ethnic groups to the outskirts of the city, for example Kurds are almost invisible in their original place. 

Foodways have always been an important aspect of one's identity, as well as crucial for the communication between people. Hence, with the project of cooking food linked to their ethnic identity, as well as telling stories and serving it publicly, distributing artistic leaflets about the 'cooking events,' providing the information through media and by creating art projects regarding the matter, the project aimed to provide communication between and raise awareness of different groups in contemporary Tbilisi.
The project also involved young professionals and on this case introduced them anthropological approach and interdisciplinary collaboration in contemporary art. By involving young professionals from socio-cultural anthropology and arts, we aimed to demonstrate and teach-in-practice how the knowledge can be transformed in the applied site-specific project and benefit its participants.
Three “migrant” groups living in Betlemi Quarter were selected for the project and fieldwork was carried out with them, including placing emphasis on their foodways and households. Based on the information obtained from the fieldwork, selected artists (visual artist, photographers, graphic designers from Tbilisi State Academy of Arts and CCA Tbilisi) collaborated with anthropologists (students from Tbilisi State University) for transforming the findings (visual appearance, stories, artifacts) into publication and outdoor public cooking events. For each public cooking event we produced small fanzines. Foodways and food-related practices were a big part of the project, showing how migrants’ identity is seen and expressed in food and while making food of their own culture in a different country, what remains and what transforms to the specifics of the host country, what external contacts are made to their home communities for keeping the foodways of their own.
Therefore, placing emphasis on this aspect we linked to and elucidated how the environment they live in, both interior and exterior, has been affected and the other way around. Moreover, the living environment represented in outdoor space during the festival served as a place for eating where the audience was invited to try the food prepared by the participants, as well as exchange stories of migration, history of their home country, recipes and extend it from there.
Within this project workshop for children/youngsters regarding recycling material was also implemented. The material was collected on spot after the eco-cultural event. Workshop was concentrated mainly on raising awareness on environment, and reusing plastic bottles and bags, for gardening and creating art works. Workshop was led by CCA Tbilisi students.
The project was initiated by GeoAIR in collaboration with ICOMOS Georgia and anthropology and graphic faculty students (Ana Benidze, Anna Gzirishvili, Maja Malinovska, Ana Ramazashvili, Nini Khuroshvili, Tatia Khutsishvili, Irakli Sharvadze).
This project was funded by the European Union through the Eastern Partnership Culture Programme.
Project was realized in the frame of the EU project SPACES.
Printing of the accompanying publications was supported by Tbilisi Center of Cultural Events.