On the eve of the Olympic Games in Beijing, the Russian military launches multiple attacks against civilian targets in the Republic of Georgia. Flying home from Ecuador at the time and purposely disengaged from media and devices, we return to our comforts and technologies to discover inboxes filled with messages and alerts from Tbilisi. Sakartvelo, in the Georgian language, is the historic name of the country.
The plane heads due north, well above the clouds, politics, and the news. Smooth sailing and the lighthearted humor of the pilot divert our attention towards volcanoes and frontiers where borders disappear in the mist. He mentions the Olympics and hopes for peace and goodwill in two languages.
The television has inverted our world with live broadcasts from across the globe where night becomes day and day becomes night. The swimmers take their mark, the gun is fired, and bodies glide to world-record speeds and bodies lie scattered in Tskhinvali and Gori.
Three days of listening to political posturing, mispronunciations, and military machinations. Three days of watching media footage and home videos from Gori, scouring the images for Zura’s family, the home that his grandfather built, and their quiet neighborhood nestled into the hillside. The Russian bear roars overhead in cross-border incursions and nighttime raids. Imagination runs rampant through hospital wards and makeshift morgues. It’s either a cruel twist of fate or precise military guidance that the Stalin Museum has survived unscathed. Zugdidi has been targeted. Where are the children hiding, the refugees from Abkhazia who already lost everything? Where are the young students who dreamed of becoming journalists, to share their stories with the world? The planes are closing in on Telavi. The planes are closing in on Tbilisi. Keti, where are you? Natia, where are you? Karo, Mari, Rez, Lena, and Sopo. The phone rings and rings, their voices carried across the waters only in memory.
Keti’s restrained accent fills the receiver and is momentarily drowned out by the shrill screams of a grandchild at play, as babua Devi chases little Dmitri out into the garden and Giorgi’s new sonata tickles the ivories. News of David in Beijing, traveling with the Georgian delegation, is discussed, his thrill at being selected to design graphics for the Georgian Olympic Pavilion and awaken the world to this fabled land. The conversation veers from anguish to bombs to hopelessness to...Modernism. Of new insights on Kandinsky, to publications in progress, to research waiting in the wings, and Devi’s new building projects in Tbilisi. For this is a Georgian home: children, books, music, art, dance, and song. A house of culture and a country of perseverance, as families huddle together waiting the night, as families whisper prayers in anticipation of morning.
Nino, hold that child close and sing her a lullaby of peace that becomes a chorus for her generation. Karo, I know you’ll continue to brush your pain on canvas after canvas, exhibiting to the world that there is another way. Natia, may your efforts never tire and never fail, lifting your community through compassion and education. Besso, you are still the clown of clowns, a hero of the Soviet Circus, and the joy and laughter you bring to thousands of children are needed more than ever. Lana, Gio, Zura, Lika, Sofie, and Sepo, I wait to hear your voices, day after day.
has taught sculpture for nearly 30 years at Texas State University and lives in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and artistic collaborator, Jerolyn. A first collection of poetry and prose was published by Plain View Press (A Quiet Divide, 2006).
Roger’s Socially Engaged-based projects are often undertaken in milieus where traditions and cultural heritage have collided head-on with westernization and government malfeasance. Rooted in the tradition of documentary studies, the projects utilize contemporary formats that include large-scale photography, publications, and intervention. Fulbright Scholar Program, CEC Artslink, and the Texas State University Research Program have supported Roger’s projects including work in Burma, Armenia, Republic of Georgia, and Ecuador. Roger and Jerolyn recently developed a project in collaboration with International Rescue Committee (Abilene) and The Grace Museum to examine issues of assimilation and citizenship for families resettling in Abilene from Congo, Burundi, and Nepal.
Artist’s faculty page (Texas State University School of Art and Design)