Next europalia arts festival in Brussels, dedicated to Georgia, was launched on Wednesday with the presentation of the programme. Located in Caucasus, at the cross-roads of civilisations, Georgia is a country which a rich culture and often turbulent history.
The strange name of the art festival is a combination of the two words Europe and Opalia. The second word refers to an ancient Roman festival but also to ‘Opus’ in Latin (work of art).
Europalia was created in 1969 with the aim of bringing the arts and culture of European countries to Belgium. Every two years, europalia compiles a diverse artistic programme focusing on a country or a theme. For four months, europalia presents a festival with a myriad of artistic and socio-cultural projects in all spheres of art aiming to stimulating an exchange of ideas.
While most countries selected have been EU member states, the festival in 1989, dedicated to Japan, led to the decision to also explore countries outside Europe. Since then, festivals have been dedicated among others to Mexico, China, Brazil, India, and Indonesia, besides Russia (2005) and Turkey (2015). Now the time has come to showcase and highlight Georgia.
“We started to prepare the festival in 2019,” artistic director Dirk Vermaelen told The Brussels Times. “The festival was supposed to take place in Autumn 2022, but due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic we had to postpone the festival until this year. Ideally, we need three years to prepare a festival.”
When Georgia was selected, the organisers were not fully aware of uniqueness of the culture and history of the country. “It was during a first prospection trip to Tbilisi in May 2019 that we got a proper idea of its rich and diverse culture. All the more reason to organize a europalia festival around Georgia – it deserves to be known in Europe.”
The festival takes place in several cities, not only in Brussels. “We take partner venues with us on prospection trips and openly discuss each other’s proposals. Venues can be interested in the same musicians or performers but we always find a solution.”
The programme is full of exhibitions, performances and other events that will take place in Brussels and other Belgian cities during four months (23.10.2023 – 24.01.2024). Dirk Vermaelen highlighted Georgia’s amazing multi-voice singing (polyhony), a major theme in the programme, and the exhibition of avant-garde art in Georgia (1900 – 1936).
Georgia has also the oldest wine culture in the world, known for its excellent wine which apparently has been produced in the country for thousands of years. The programme is inspired by supras, a feature in Georgian culture and cuisine expressing the spirit of hospitality. These are gatherings around richly filled tables accompanied by chants and speeches from toastmasters.
Another fascinating exhibition, ‘Georgia: A story of encounters’, will focus on the culture, history and art of Georgia since the dawn of history. This exhibition will show artifacts influenced by the ancient Greeks and Romans but also by Persians, Arabs, Byzantines, Mongols and Ottomans. They all contributed to the intermingling of cultures but also sowed destruction in their wake.
Georgia was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity as its religion. This happened in the 4th century when Saint Nina, the daughter of a Roman general, preached Christianity to the pagan inhabitants and converted the local king. This would also lead to the creation of a unique 33-letter alphabet which was first used for the translation of the Bible.
The selection of Georgia was described by Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib as an ambitious choice which will prove to be the right decision. Europalia is an iconic event and a flagship in our cultural diplomacy, she said at the launch event. The event will become a key event in Belgium’s relations with Georgia.
On the same day she and Prime Minister Alexander De Croo met their Georgian counterparts in Brussels and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. She twitted that “reinforcing our strong relations was a key focus, with the kick-off of europalia Georgia”. The Memorandum is expected “to foster increased interactions and cooperation, paving the way for even closer collaboration”.
The Belgian foreign minister also reminded that Georgia last has applied to become a candidate country and start the accession process to join the EU. The European Council decided in June 2022 that it was ready to grant the status of candidate country to Georgia once the priorities specified in the European Commission’s opinion on Georgia’s membership application have been addressed.
Asked about the role of political considerations in the selection of countries, Dirk Vermaelen replied that proposals can come from the ministry of foreign affairs, via the country which wants to participate or via or own team. “Europalia decides after thorough artistic research, prospection and discussions with many partners.”
“It wasn’t easy to arrange the festival,” said Thea Tsulukiani, Georgian deputy prime minister and minister of culture, sport and youth. “We wanted to offer a top-quality event with a diverse programme to everyone’s liking.”
The ancient and mediaeval kingdoms of Georgia have played an important role in defending Europe. Georgia has been invaded many times and part of its territory is still occupied by Russia. The Georgian minister thought that the Council’s decision last year was unfair but hoped that it will take the right decision by the end of this year.
What indicators are used to assess the success and impact of europalia? “There are several indicators, artistic director Vermaelen replied. “The number of visitors to start with, the increase of tourism in the guest country, but also for instance the interest of many – each time more – venues who want to participate.”
The decision for next festival in 2025 has already been taken. It will be a festival dedicated to Spain. The country will soon take over the EU-Presidency on 1 July.
Source: The Brussels Times