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Travelling Foodways

Betlemi Quarter Stories
Tbilisi, Georgia
May 17, 2013

Artistic events and workshops with migrant groups

See the brochures:
Larisa Mezhdoiani

Nazi Beridze

Organised by GeoAIR, Tbilisi. Read more and see pictures on GeoAIR blog

About the event:

Betlemi district is a very old historical part of Tbilisi, where different nationalities lived throughout years. It was revitalized by ICOMOS Georgia and local community. Project addresses the issue of displacement and “migrants’ existences by transforming their household and foodways in the engaged artistic works, their stories and private space into public domain. During the project we work with people of four different ethnic groups which have been living in Betlemi district for generations - Greeks, Armenians, 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 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 aims to provide communication between and raise awareness of different groups in contemporary Tbilisi.

The project also involves young professionals and on this case introduces 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. Therefore, it also demonstrates how the linkage of prior research and intended artistic practice can be an important source for further creative exploration and application in practice.

Three “migrant” groups living in Betlemi Quarter were selected for the project and extensive 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 of their household (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 are the 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 of their own 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 link to and elucidate how the environment they live in, both interior and exterior, is affected and the other way around. Moreover, the living environment represented in outdoor space will serve as a place for eating where the audience is invited to try the food of “migrants”, as well as exchange stories of migration, history of their home country, recipes and extend it from there.

During the festival day, chosen three families will publicly cook their ethnic food and audience will have a possibility to taste it in or close by their houses, hear their (hi)stories etc. Guests will also have a chance to get involved in the cooking process and share their culinary stories. Moreover, on festival day specially prepared brochures, containing recipes and different textual and/or visual material of these families, will be distributed. Guests are asked for small monetary contribution, which will lay a foundation for next year Betlemi Quarter Festival.

Within this project we also plan workshop for children/youngsters regarding recycling material, which we will collect on spot after public joint cleaning project (with the active involvement of students). Workshop will concentrate mainly on raising awareness on environment, and reusing plastic bottles and bags, for gardening and creating small art works. Workshop will be led by CCA Tbilisi students.