Magic Carpets

Tamar Kalandadze

Sounds of the Valley

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.

Tamar and Ali

Before going to Pankisi, we had several ideas of what Tamar should worked on while at the residency. She wanted to work with kids but wasn’t sure what or how she was going to go about doing it. She once told me, “I have this feeling that there’s a story waiting for me there.” And so it happened, the series of unplanned, coincidental events, a kind of serendipity that brought her to the community of local horsemen and her protagonist—the youngest horseman, 13 year old Ali.
While she was researching the relationship between men and horses, a topic that is very special and sacred to the Kist community, the personal story of Ali emerged and Tamar followed it in ways both direct and metaphorical..

She followed him to the river bank to meet other horsemen; to the forest to find and allure horses with salt stolen from grandmothers; to the horse race, an important event for young Ali where he could show his horsemanship and maybe even win some money to buy his own horse. For Tamar, the time spent in the valley was like a riddle - loaded with mythological, cosmological and everyday, as if simple, hints. With the ones that the universe sends us when we follow the right path that has been determined for us.
The story of Ali (whose name means “flame” in Georgian) is masterfully told through the photos and words of Tamar. The residency is over, but this is only the beginning of the path which seems like a beginning of a beautiful friendship too.

text: Ana Gabelaia, curator of the project