Tina Chertova is a Tbilisi based muralist with a passion for bringing women’s and lgbtq+ issues to light through her art. Growing up, she admired her grandfather, Igor, a self-taught artist who instilled a deep love of art and creativity in her. In addition to creating breathtaking murals across Tbilisi, Kutaisi and beyond, Tina has also worked in collaboration with UN Women and holds a big reputation for her work in social equality. In short, she’s an a** kicking, ceiling-shattering, feminist superhero who is slowly but surely changing the framework of society for good.
How did you get into the world of murals and painting?
Growing up, I was very close with my grandfather. He was a self-taught artist, and a very talented one at that. He spent all of his time making things by hand – shoes, furniture, kitchen handicrafts and even guns. I always knew I wanted to be just like him – not very social and always creating something with my hands. We spent a lot of time together foraging mushrooms, hunting birds, discussing math, physics, astronomy and the wonders of the world. He was a deeply introverted and sensitive man, and looking back, my fondest memories are with him. When he passed, it became an even bigger catalyst for me to continue creating. It took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to say with my art and how I wanted to say it – but in 2015, I created my first big project, Dreamingstan.
Igor Chertov, 1960
What is your biggest inspiration?
After my grandfather, my biggest inspiration is Tbilisi and more broadly, Georgia. It’s a place with good and bad times, poor and powerful people, strong and envious characters. With political conflicts and women’s rights continuing to evolve here, it’s very easy to be inspired.
Most of your work centers on women’s rights and social issues – can you tell me more about what inspires you to shed a light on these topics?
My spark for these issues began when I was working as a comics designer for an NGO for policemen and teachers. The job entailed a few workshops outside Tbilisi, where I eventually met a woman named Maia Fetishivili. I was at a unique point in my life where I knew I had a story to tell, and I knew it wanted to be focused on women, but wasn’t sure in what way to tell such a story. And then, out of the clear blue sky, came Maia, a divorced mother of two who quit her job as a music teacher to join the police academy where she later became one of the first women in the country to make a successful career in policing.
It was her who inspired me to create Dreamingstan and work more on feminism related themes while using my murals and illustrations to not only tell interesting stories, but to inspire young girls that they too can do anything.
Dreamingstan and the premise behind it is fascinating. Can you tell me more about this project?
Dreamingstan as a concept, is a city of passionate dreamers. It’s place for people who’ve chosen a different way of life – one that’s brave, honorable and outside the normal boundaries of society. My exhibit as part of the Dreamingstan project focuses on real women who’ve struggled with their reality and yet, changed the world for good. My main goal was to represent the many different sides of Georgia, and the complex social issues that are faced here – particularly gender inequality, which is why I chose women as the main figures. The exhibition is made up of 12 distinct portraits of 12 equally distinct women from Georgia whose unique narratives come together to tell a bigger story of inspiration, strength and empowerment.
Among the “citizens of Dreamingstan” are Nina Gogorishvili, a doctor in the Gori Military Hospital who fought to save countless lives during the Russo-Georgian war in 2008; Rusudan Gotsiridze, a bishop who has devoted her entire life to the Church and aims to grow more acceptance and understanding of different walks of life within it; and of course Maia.
Nina Gogorishvili (left) Rusudan Gotsiridze (right)
Interested in more inspiring women like Tina? Read about 16 year old Mariam Saginashvili who is protecting Georgian lore in her community.
What is your favorite mural you’ve created and why?
Oh, easy! Fairy on top of the City. I created this mural in collaboration with another local female artist, Irma Shonia, and it is by far one of my favorite projects. This mural depicts a large woman holding a little girl in the palm her hand. The woman or fairy is meant to embody Georgian feminist women who are fighting for equality, the little girl in the palm of the fairy’s hand symbolizes the young generation of women who will continue building a better world based on the knowledge and lessons they’ve learned from the women who came before them. The scattered eyes on the fairy symbolize the masses of people who are constantly monitoring women and judging them. This type of imagery is so important to younger women across Georgia. To know that they can be empowered and can create a life that they love is the most meaningful truth I’d ever want to share.
I understand that you collaborate regularly with GRLZwave. What exactly is GRLZwave?
GRLZwave is an incredible feminist platform created by a group of three young women in Tbilisi. Their aim is to “fight against stereotypes, dogmas and inequality, which are embedded in the patriarchal society.” And they do exactly that. They do this by educating and opening dialogue on various social issues throughout Georgia such as homo/transphobia, mental health, sexism, sexuality and so much more. The best part about the GRLZwave project is that they create a safe space for individuals to share their own experiences and stories which helps create a larger, more cohesive community of likeminded people. I partner with them on various mural projects to promote a larger understanding and acceptance of women and LGBTQ+ individuals. They are truly a fantastic group of girls and I am thrilled to call them my friends and colleagues.
“you have the right to use contraceptives and prevent an unplanned pregnancy”
I understand that many of your murals garner controversy in some circles, specifically ultra-conservative communities. Can you tell me why you think that is?
Unfortunately we have some ultra conservative groups in Georgia who actively fight against the progress, rights and freedoms of women, lgbtq+ people and other nations and races. One of the men at the forefront of this hateful movement is Guram Palavandishvili. He works very hard to have my murals protested against and destroyed. Many of which are only giving helpful information to young girls like reminding them that they have the right to an annual gynecology visit and should not be shamed for the use of contraception. People from these ultra conservative communities only think in hate. They perceive my work as an attack on the institute of marriage – however, in Adjara (region in Western Georgia) child marriage is an active issue which needs addressing. Until I feel that all young girls are aware that they can create their own future, I will continue telling these stories through my murals and telling them LOUD. When people look at my work, I want them to feel inspired, empowered and understood.
What projects are you currently working on? Anything we should keep an eye out for?
Now I am working on social project about equality for UN Women. It features seven muralists from Albania, Kosovo, Moldova, Turkey, the US and of course, Georgia. Through this initiative, we will collectively raise awareness for women’s issues and gender equality. Our aim is to create a robust dialogue within the respective communities and brainstorm on how we can create a better world going forward. These types of projects are always stressful, but so worth it. I am also working with an amazing street art gallery called Artup which is a movement to showcase different types of street art in unconventional spaces. See what I mean here.
Keep up with Tina Chertova and all of her artistic endeavors on instagram!