A solo exhibition of four large-scale paintings and one interactive installation of giant arms “Hug” by Georgian female contemporary artist Nestan Mikeladze opened at Crosty Art Space, Tbilisi on June 9. The exhibition will be on display until July 31.
Essay by Levan Mindiashvili
Referencing an act of holding of an infant by a parent, Donald Woods Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst whose work has shaped developmental psychology, developed a highly influential concept of a “holding environment” – a protecting and nurturing environment, wherein one’s basic needs “to breathe, to eat and drink, to have one’s weight supported” – are satiated, and that allows the child to experience the body as the place wherein one securely lives. Extrapolating the concept of holding from parent to family and the outside world, Winnicott saw as crucial to healthy development “the continuation of reliable holding in terms of the ever-widening circle of family and school and social life.”
It might sound redundant -if not apparent- to extend the responsibility of parental care to the systems of power – governments, for example. Yet I can hardly imagine a more ironic entry for the essay about the artist born and based in Georgia, the country – whose vast majority of inhabitants’ basic needs have been historically -and still are to these days- neglected and denied.
An act of holding is the center of a solo exhibition of Nestan Mikeladze at Crosty Art Space, Tbilisi. Giant arms connected in a semi-circle hang approximately at an average adult’s shoulders height, inviting the viewers inside to be hugged and held. Titled “Hug” (2023), it’s made out of plaster and painted bright pink, bringing to mind children’s whimsical, joyous plasticine creations and marking Mikeladze’s first ventures in three-dimensional objects and installation. The sculpture is flanked by four large-scale paintings (all oil on canvas) -semi-abstracted human figures against drippy, translucent patches of color, suggesting states rather than scenarios. The earliest painting in the show, “I will hold you” (2017) – depicts two figures in the act of embrace with emphasized red/ pinkish arms, a detail that became the starting point of the sculpture.
Nestan Mikeladze is a self-taught artist whose creative explorations started ten years ago from the urgent need to liberate herself from the patriarchal dictatorship generally disguised as “traditions” or “cultural identity.” “The standard view of a “feminist” [in Georgia] is that of a woman who wants to dominate men and who aggressively rejects the feminine parts of herself. But for me, feminism is about equality, autonomy, and respect among all genders,” – notes the artist, who also -like her contemporary peers- chose to find her voice in the solitude of her studio through careful listening of intuition -of her truth- rather than in a professionalized school. Abandoning a successful career of fourteen years in finance, with an arduous and honest commitment to liberation and truth-seeking, Mikeladze seems to embody her home country’s yet not fully conscious longing for decolonization.
Winnicott believed in the work of the psychotherapist -i.e., an emphatic, benevolent witness and interpreter- as offering a substitute holding environment. He wrote: ”a correct and well-timed interpretation […] gives a sense of being held physically that is more real…than if a real holding or nursing had taken place. Understanding goes deeper.” As systems of power increasingly fail in their responsibilities of care, the only way for healing, healthy growth, and a possible future increasingly relies upon communal acts of benevolence and care.