Mosaic murals in Georgia: Street Art from the Past

Xiaoyan Zhou

After having stayed in Abu Dhabi and living between the grey and white building for 3 months, I was surprised by the bold usage of colors on decorations of architecture and wall murals when I went on a trip to Georgia. I felt it when I was walking on the street of Tbilisi where street paintings were everywhere, I felt it when I was appreciating the Tiffany windows in the Holy Trinity Cathedral Church. But it hit on me the strongest, when I was standing down from the Gudauri View Point, looking up at the Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument, a cylindrical architecture filled with mosaic clipping art, a style of art that lasts all the way from the era of the Soviet Union to the modern times.

An Art of Politics

It was so strange that I got a sense of familiarity when I looked at the monument. I know I shouldn’t have, since I’ve neither lived in Georgia, nor have I ever seen this monument in person, or anywhere on social media.

As a was tracing my early memory, I gradually found the mosaic style of the monument in some of the posters of the Chinese communist parties for the purpose of political propaganda. Then it started to make sense. As a Chinese, I was brought up in a society of communism. It is no surprising that I would see similar works of art in Georgia, a country that formerly belongs to the Soviet Union, the birthplace of Communism.

A Style of Budget

Soviet Mosaic is an art that originally only exists in the Orthodox Eastern churches and places for religious purposes. But under the new communist regime, they had an unexpected ally. In the 1900s, the Communist party started putting up posters and street arts to spread the ““`Communist philosophy in places of public transits, where there is usually large population flow. To create mural and street paintings with affordable budget, the organizers decided to go with the mosaic style, since it’s more of a  “assemble art” and less of a delicate handcrafting, and is “cheap in the manufacturing in material”. The tile also last long with its painted color, and barely fades in bleak cold winter and freezing temperature.

Just as an example, the picture below is a mosaic mural of the Ortachala fire station in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Ortachala Fire Station in Tbilisi, Georgia | Soviet artwork

Vanishing Mosaics and Their Legacy

The mosaic art and style prospered in the times of the Soviet Union. Since the style has been widely adoptwed in publice area, displaying for the purposes of  propaganda, promoting ideologies of socialism and communism, it is viewed by the modern people as having a strong affiliation with politics, or more specificaly, the `Soviet Union. This further explains why mosaic art is becoming less dominant in the modern time as its main user has collapsed. It also explains why mosaic art is less emphasized and significantly less valued. We don’t hear people talk about mosaic art as often as pop art, y2k and contemporary. It’s also rare to see any preservation program for mosaic art as a protection for this cultural heritage. As mosaic becomes more than art but also a symbol of a political ideology, it’s being treated based on people’s attitude towards the political ideology, not the art style itself.


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