Art & Culture

Shalva Nikvashvili, the artist you need to know about

Introducing Shalva Nikvashvili, the queer artist using outlandish masks to embody his darkest memories and explore society’s ruling of identity.

Shalva Nikvashvili’s art forms a constant commentary on the freedom we have to choose our own identities, using his masks to manifest memories, emotions and stereotypical aspects of society’s personality traits to turn them into their own characters.

Made from unconventional materials such as raw meat, electrical cables, clothing, leather, hair and rocks, Nikvashvili’s masks are powerful and provocative.

Many of the artist’s works reflect on his childhood growing up in Georgia. Born in the town of Signagi, Nikvashvili moved to the Georgian capital Tbilisi in the early 90s, and, like many living in Georgia at this time, Nikvashvili grew up in extreme poverty. During the 90s Georgia was a place of civil unrest, with multiple civil wars claiming casualties in the hundreds of thousands and thrusting millions into poverty. Homosexuality is also notoriously not accepted in the country, multiple masks made by Nikvashvili are a reflection on his difficult childhood struggling to find acceptance for who he is in his native culture. Nikvashvili only came out to his family after moving to Belgium and marrying his husband, Sascha Bewersdorff.

Establishing yourself as an artist in the current climate of over-priced studios and galleries dominated by older, wealthy artists is a brick wall many are finding hard to overcome.  Nikvashvili is part of the first wave of artists to successfully conquer this wall by harnessing onto the power of social media. By using Instagram as a virtual gallery, Nikvashvili’s work has been shared thousands of times not to mention his following shy of 12k.

Take a look below to see what Shalva Nikvashvili had to say to HUNGER…

What attracted you to start making masks?

I have always been hunting human emotions to catch them, mine or from others and then to shape them and transform to my work … after trying lots of different medias I discovered that making masks was something I have never tried before but I have been always interested in. I love the idea that when I delete my real face and put a mask on, the mask talks, not me. It gives me the confidence to say whatever I want and touch any topic I want.

In one of your earlier Instagram posts you discuss how your masks are a narrative on social constructs of identity, what is your definition of identity and what do you believe creates it?

Identity is a thing which can be sculpted all the time, life experience and observation shape our identities.

With technology advances in AI and social media, do you think our construct of identity will change?

Absolutely. It is changing already because people have bigger possibilities to create fake identities. If you look on social media everyone has lots of friends and having a fantastic time all the time … Social media is a tool where you can shape in any kind of direction to your identity.

Posting your work on Instagram has given you a lot of coverage, do you think social media is a good thing for artists?

Social media is fantastic for young artists because museums are for dead people and galleries are drowning.

Lots of the masks reference to experiences growing up in Georgia, what was your childhood like?

I was born after Soviet Union was collapsed. It was a very hard time. I remember hunger, no electricity and very dark days, those days shaped my identity, it’s funny to say but I’m glad I have seen lots of struggles because it made me who I am now.

In an interview I read, you first started drawing at the age of 2, did art help you to escape from the difficulties you faced while growing up?

I was raised in a very traditional Georgian family where many things were not accepted. I had to follow their rules. Being creative has been and always will be my best way to not run away from my difficulties, I face difficulties and then transform it in my work.

Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

Yes, I have, I can’t say for now, but it will be visible from 15 of June on my Instagram.

Your story is pretty inspirational! Do you have any advice for those struggling to feel accepted?

When someone tells you that you are ugly you have to smile!
When someone tells you that you can’t do what you want, you just turn and do whatever you want.
When you try try try and you can’t see progress, best is to keep
trying.
Work every day, believe in yourself no matter what others say! Because others have their own problems unsolved, so don’t listen to anyone just keep believing and working on yourself.

10 June 2019