In Conversation with LGBTQ+ Artist Shalva Nikvashvili: Mask maker- reloaded
Some people create masks to shield themselves against the world, whilst others such as artist Shalva Nikvashvili physically create them to tell stories. Raised in the notoriously un-LGBTQ+ friendly country of Georgia, his life story inspires every piece. The man with the masks tells us how he overcame poverty, prejudice, and homophobia and his “Fresh Start”.
Read More Below. Interview by Danijel Vukoja
- I have come across your art on several Insta-stories for a while now, where people would share the masks you created. What do you think created that buzz? One week ago I was in my flat working on a new headpiece, when I noticed my Instagram and Email got hacked and discovered it when it was too late. My current life is quite isolated, me being from Eastern Europe doesn’t make my life any easier, here in Belgium. So for me, social media was the way to connect with people and to share my work, especially nowadays where museums are showcasing the art of dead artists or big names. When I discovered that my Instagram was hacked I couldn’t do anything else but start everything all over again. I made this new account and shared what has happened (also on my Facebook page) with the few followers I had. Immediately I got responses from my old account’s followers and people just started sharing my work. It went viral immediately and a lot of others also started sharing my masks. I started drawing at 2-years-old and I have never stopped being creative, but I have never had so much interest in my art as I am right now.
- Someone called you the “Mask maker- reloaded” on one of your posts. How do you feel about this support? I have and had a couple of dreams in my life. One of them was and will always be to inspire others and make people understand the world I live in. To give people hope that everything is possible! And to see now that so many people relate or support my stories it makes me stronger and gives me hope! Every artist needs an audience. My work really tries to speak for a better World, a World without racism, sexism, homophobia and where people will not be punished for who they are! We need to support each other and fight for our rights and never forget history.
- Is a new start a curse or a blessing to you? I think a new start is a blessing. Starting something from an empty page is difficult, but during my life, I have started a lot of things from a blank page. It’s difficult but powerful when you do.
- So you are currently based in Belgium, but you are originally from Georgia, How was life for you growing up? I moved to Belgium in 2014 because of love. My family and so many other families had to suffer a lot from hunger, not having water nor electricity and even no bread. I remember each of these experiences because it took a lot of time to start making small changes. It was not easy at all! We weren’t living, we were surviving. I remember one New Year’s Eve when I was 7 years old we didn’t have anything to eat besides onion and half piece of bread. Each of us knew it was not what we really wanted, but we knew we just did not have any other choice, but you have to believe in a better life! ‘The hope dies the last’
- When did you realise you identified as homosexual and how did this correspondent with your environment? I realised at a very young age that I was different (because of the comments I was receiving from my family or the people around me). I could not name who or what I was for a long time as there was no example of a “homosexual person” I knew of. It took me a few years to know I was homosexual and I was living in a country where the church has greater power than any other mortal. (lol) I had to hide my sexual orientation from my family and had to live a secret life. It was exhausting, made me mad and hopeless at times. I tried to lock myself in my work. If somewhere in the world one gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, etc. person is being scared to be open up about who he/she is, I want to say: just try to build things step by step. Try to find a safe place where you can be whoever you want to be. Don’t fight aggression with aggression! Believe in yourself and trust me you are going to make it!
- It feels like you have been punished a lot for just not fitting into the norm and standing out of the masses. Where did you find the strength to be your true self? I have never fitted into the masses and never want to. My work has been and will be placed where I can be whoever I want to be. I feel safe and am the true me next to my boyfriend and in my work.
- Please pick 2 of your masks and explain the story of what inspired the creation. Bra-mask: when I moved to Belgium I told to my family that I was gay and I got married. It was a huge drama for my family. I did not have any contact with them for a long time. My brother was threatening that he would kill me if I would ever return back home. After I started to get back in touch with my mother she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She needed medical treatment, but she couldn’t afford it. No one was really there who could help her and I realised I was the one who had to take action and help as much as I could. So I started a charity project where I developed a character named “PAMELA” – I sold her paintings and achieved enough money to cover her medical treatment. Since then we’ve become much closer. Fake-jewelry-mask: As mentioned before I grew up in a Gerogia with no electricity, a lot of crime and war. My family was on the edge of surviving. My mother would take me with her to ‘Golden Market’ and sell her anything valuable we had, including her wedding ring, to be able to buy food for us. This is an ode to this.
- At your young age, your story is very inspirational and even just reading this interview will help a lot of others. I truly believe that better days are on the horizon for you. What will you do this year to achieve happiness? I want to inspire others! I want to show people that if you dream, believe and fight for your dreams you will always get what you truly deserve! To achieve happiness this year I am working harder.
Thanks to Models Shalva Nikvashvili and Gilles. Photography by Sascha Bewersdorff.
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