December 24, 2015

A pregnant Virgin Mary with a toy pistol

On 12 December, Mama Cash partner Women’s Fund in Georgia hosted the 3rd Kato Mikeladze Award ceremony. Named after a 19th Century Georgian feminist, women’s right activist and publicist, the award recognises and honours achievements by women’s rights activists.

Lia Ukleba

For me, as a Georgian, having the priviledge to be present at the Award ceremony had additional meaning. The Kato Mikeladze Award was given at a time when the women’s rights/feminist movement in Georgia faces an increasing backlash from society and conservative institutions.

This year’s award winner is Lia Ukleba, a feminist artist and an activist, who has been advocating for women’s rights for several years. Lia Ukleba created number of personal exhibitions and installations, both within and outside Georgia. Her art sharply portrays women’s problems and the structural nature of violence against women. She portrays women’s struggles for self-establishment and liberation from patriarchal taboos and masculine culture, but she also fearlessly criticizes one of the most significant opponents of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Georgia: religious institutions and their hypocrisy.

Taking on the Georgian Orthodox Church

One of Lia’s recently exhibited works, ‘Virgin Mary with a toy pistol’ got widespread attention after it was exhibited in October 2015 at Ilya State University, in Tbilisi. In the painting a pregnant Virgin Mary attempts to commit suicide. Lia Ukleba said she was inpired by witnessing the persistent hypocrisy of people ready to hurt each other in the name of religion. In her painting the Virgin Mary decides that humankind does not deserve to be given child of god. ‘This is a bitter joke that we need to reflect on’ said Lia Ukleba. The painting is a direct reaction to the homophobic violence on May 17 2013, but also reacts to other backlashes from the Georgian orthodox church against women’s rights. Lia’s painting was criticized by the influential and conservative Georgian Orthodox Church, who perceived it as unprecedented abuse of both the Georgian nation and Orthodoxy. As a result Lia Ukleba started receiving threats.

Lia Ukleba’s creative and courageous art contributes to bringing women’s rights in public debate, and criticizes the institutionalised culture of violence and opression. She uses art as a remarkable instrument to challenge the most difficult to change- social norms, attitudes and taboos not only directed against women’s rights in Georgia but against civic pluralism and progressive change.

Artivism as a powerful tool for change

Artivism (Art+Activism), as a medium to advance the struggle against injustice and oppression is still gaining ground in Georgian feminist/ women’s right movement. Our partner Women’s Fund in Georgia has been supporting work in this direction via grant making (making it explicit in their calls to support feminist art initiatives), and by organizing space for mutual learning and exchange. In the past couple of years WFG has funded a number of art activists’ initiatives like a series of feminist comics against homophobia and transphobia, a women artists collective and feminist filmmaking projects.

Recently, Women’s Fund in Georgia organised and hosted a lecture-workshop for social artists from Georgia and abroad, to facilitate understanding of different forms of social art and their connection with activism.

Awards like the Kato Mikeladze Award provide important recognition of the continued and fearless actions of women human rights defenders who tirelessly work to improve the conditions for women and promote feminist values while being met with opposition, ridicule and threats. Mama Cash, as a partner fund of Women’s Fund in Georgia is proud to be one of the supporters of the Kato Mikeladze Award and to contribute into visibility and awareness raising of the importance of women human rights defenders and their work in Georgia.

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