Fearing for his and his family’s lives, artist and activist Irakli Kakabadze fled from his native country Georgia. Now a visiting scholar at Cornell’s peace studies program and writer-in-residence of Ithaca City of Asylum, Kakabadze spoke last Saturday at the Unitarian Church of Ithaca to emphasize the importance of art and writing as an instrument for peace building.
Kakabadze says he believes artists — especially in countries like Georgia — unmask the unknown situation that is hushed up by the government to the public. They then became well known performers in Georgia and, as a result, victims of attacks from the state government.
Since the late 1980s, the Georgian writer, poet and playwright advocated for non-violence and human rights in Georgia. In 2003, Kakabadze co-founded the Georgian “Theatre for Change,” which transformed the monologue of a theatrical performance into a dialogue between audience and stage. The theatre was one of the movements that led to the Rose Revolution, a bloodless revolution in Georgia in 2003 that displaced the president at the time, according to Kakabadze.
In Jan. 2007, Kakabadze sought refuge from his own government. Ithaca City of Asylum, an organization that provides sanctuary to writers whose works are suppressed and whose lives are threatened, came to Kakabadze’s rescue and appointed him a writer-in-residence.
Saturday’s talk was split into a 30-minute reading and a 20-minute dialogue with Prof. Ernesto Quinonez, English and fellow Asylum program writer for the event.
“Kakabadze requested to have the program split this way because to him, it’s really important to talk about the power of artists as activists and the [artists’] contributions to peace-making,” said Travis Winter, a board member of Ithaca City of Asylum, which organized the event in celebration of Banned Books Week from Sept 26 to Oct. 3.
Kakabadze read excerpts from four of his works : 21st Century Georgian Humanist Manifesto, Condominium of Free Will, Postindustrial Voice and Quarter Hippie Song.
In addition to his oral fervor and animated gestures, Kakabadze alternated between reading the Georgian and English versions of the passages that he has chosen. Kakabadze modeled his reading on polyphony, a Russian literary tradition which includes numerous points of view and voices, hence enriching the text with more room for interpretation and creative expression.
“I am paying tribute not only to the folk tradition but also to postmodernism and multiple voices that are speaking to us from everywhere, such as media and the Internet,” Kakabadze said. “Reading both the Georgian and English versions of the texts demonstrates that there’s not one dominant voice speaking. The polyphonic tradition merges different cultures. Not one culture is considered superior to another. It shows that the narratives are aimed at everyone.”
“It’s all about getting different perspectives. Different people get different messages out of the polyphonic narrative. Kakabadze wants to emphasize the multiple contributions [of opinions from different groups of people] that wouldn’t have been there had there been only one voice.” Winter said.
Along these lines, Kakabadze said that different art forms, such as literature, music, and visual arts, should also merge to adapt to the ever-changing world as well as to provide a new artistic experience that would capture the attention of our generation.
“Artists have to adapt to the new ways of the Internet. The CDs of musicians don’t sell anymore because so many people are downloading music from the Internet. The postindustrial time is a very dynamic time and art has to reflect that reality. We have to make literature more accessible, especially because nowadays, young people have short attention spans. We have to become more proactive to draw people’s attention to our works and the issues that we are highlighting through them,” Kakabadze said. “For instance, Pittsburgh City of Asylum organized a Jazz Poetry Concert, combining musical performance and readings of poetry.”
At Cornell, Kakabadze teaches a seminar class where he asks students to pick a tragedy and come up with an alternative ending. Students film their performance and make it into a movie that would be shown to the University in the spring semester. Through this creative project, Kakabadze hopes that he could encourage students to, literally, find solutions to tragedies in today’s world.