Sounds of the Valley
"Sounds of The Valley" is an artist residency program for international and Georgian multidisciplinary artists. The residency is a part of the larger, “Magic Carpets” family, which consists of 16 European organizations that exchange artists every year in order to work with local communities.
The residency is located in Pankisi, an area in the Kakheti region in the eastern part of Georgia. This valley, bordered by the Caucasus mountain range and situated on the banks of Alazani river, is inhabited by a mostly Muslim community known as the Kists.
Pankisi is a beautiful and somewhat magical place. There's something in the air that makes you think that often time is passing differently—you may see shades of green that don't exist elsewhere and sounds that are familiar but at the same time unrecognizable. Although it's one of the most picturesque regions in the country and a popular tourist destination for many foreigners, most Georgians have never been there. For the rest of Georgia, Pankisi is shrouded in mystery and rumors; people speak of it carefully and information is fragmented and often misleading. The Kist community is among the most isolated groups in the country—close geographically yet distanced socially.
This distance is one of the main reasons we chose Pankisi as a location for our residency and the Kist people as the community with whom we wanted to work.
For the Kist community, the invisible wall between them and the rest of Georgia has a considerable effect on their daily lives. For years now, in order to break the stigma and shorten this distance, Kists have been encouraging their fellow Georgian citizens to visit Pankisi.
Within the framework of the residency, the Tbilisi Photo Festival sent three artists to spend up to three weeks in the villages of Pankisi. We knew from the beginning that this residency was not about finding solutions or detecting problems—instead, the main focus was on creating new human relationships, connecting people to people and people to places.
As a result, introduced in this publication are three encounters that have been transformed into three stories, each bringing you a different side of the sounds of the Pankisi Valley.
Diana and Speroza
A.G. - “I've always thought that there's a strong bond between nature and The people who live in it, and people's characters are strongly influenced by the landscape they see when they wake up. I don't know about other places, to be honest, but at least in Georgia I've seen so much proof of this theory. It's more visible in the mountains, with mountain people, or those who live near the sea. We don't have capital letters in Georgian, but in English, I always want to write “Mountains,” “Forests,” or “Sea.” with a capital letter, because they are so monumental, something so large and worthy of respect.
D.T. - “Beautiful words. this should be in your curator's text!”
Diana was fascinated by the mountain and its strong presence. “Somehow it drags me,” she said. “It invites me, so I often take walks in its direction.” The walks were meditative, as was Diana's entire stay in the Valley.
Beginning her mornings by peeling pomegranates and counting the seeds before eating them, she would then walk along the river Alazani towards Speroza, discovering new places on her way. It was on the cusp of Autumn and Winter, when dramatic changes were about to happen, and you could feel the preparations of nature in everything—in the temperature, the smell of the air, and the colors of the leaves—changing every other moment, fading and falling, finally. Diana’s walks were accompanied by Rumi's poetry that would often appear in our conversations, by the local Imam's callings to the prayer echoing in the mountains and returning back to the Valley, by the sounds of Georgian and Kist languages, and by the sequence of the traditions and customs of two cultures, meeting and mixing here in Pankisi.
Overwhelmed with everything, Diana was nervous that her time in the valley was not nearly enough to reflect on and understand the place. “I was worried about how I could make something meaningful in such a short time until I read Rumi.” she wrote to me this quote from him:
"Don't worry about saving these songs! And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn't matter.
We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.”
I hope Diana's photos, here presented as postcards, will call you to visit Pankisi and you too will be able to take the long walks on the riverbank of Alazani towards Speroza, the one we call the Mountain.