Gulnara Chitadze, 82 years old, Gori
“I was born in Tbilisi, my mother was my father’s second wife. He was an actor and at the same time did manual labor. When the war started, he was transferred to a factory. Back then, the rocket launcher artillery, ,,Katyusha’’ was newly invented and they were making its parts in the factory. Actually, the war was won thanks to ,,Katyusha’’. When the war ended, my father left the factory, said that he was an actor and started acting again.
By Stalin’s decision, the Armenian troupe in Akhaltsikhe was closed and they were looking for Georgian actors for the new one. My father was a patriot, always looking to do something for Georgia, and he was the first to volunteer. I was 10-11 years old, and I had already lost my mother. She died with tuberculosis when I was 4. My father took me with him in Akhaltsikhe. He started working as an actor and I spent all of my time in the theater. My father had to be my mom too. What could he possibly do? Life was very hard back then. Nowadays everybody has bathrooms in their homes, but it wasn’t like that before. In these conditions, I was studying and we had a room in the theatre where we lived. I was spending all of my free time with a decorator. I don’t know how they do it now, but back then the big curtain was painted, it was called “Zadniki” in Russian and when they laid out this huge sculpture on the floor, I was running on it. That’s how I grew up in the theater – sometimes I was helping the painter as I could, handing him the brush or the paint bucket, sometimes when they needed a kid on the stage, I acted too. So, I finished 8 classes in Akhaltsikhe. I was already painting well and I loved every second of it. My father gave me a hand too. He often told me: ‘’Daughter, you can become anything but an actress, otherwise you’ll starve to death.” In a word, I left Akhaltsikhe and started studying in the Nikoladze art school. I completed my five years long course successfully. I was lucky to have great professors as well. I also wanted to get in the academy of arts, but I had such a hard childhood… A 4-year-old without a mother. In the meantime, my father was getting older and his pension was only 62 rubles. We were hungry half of the time. To say it briefly, there was a lot of struggle and that was the main reason why I couldn’t continue my studies.
My father was a great man. Our relationship was always close and open. He never treated me strictly and in my turn, I didn’t hide anything from him. Once, one boy had a crush on me (by the way, he later became Tbilisi’s chief architect). I was coming back from the cinema, it was late and he was hiding behind a tree by the road. Suddenly he ran to me and kissed me on the cheek. I was so ashamed, I couldn’t go out for a week. I thought everybody saw me. My father asked me what happened. I told him, how Givi kissed me. Only a kiss? – he asked. What else should have he done?! That’s nothing, nothing has happened, – he said. He was such a free thinker. And yes, did anything really happen? I was very shy and my father’s character helped me. If he would have been overly controlling, I’d probably had done something bad. In general, there is no need to control a child all the time.’’
Back to the theatre
‘’Now I’m going to tell you the reason why I actually went to Poti. I have nothing to hide — one boy from Poti had feelings for me. I loved him too. He started studying at the academy the same year I finished mine and I was helping him paint. By the way, he later became a great sculptor. And that guy told me – if I leave you here, you’ll marry someone else, so I have to take you with me to Poti. That’s how I moved there. My father had a lot of friends in the Poti theatre and they helped me get a job there. I worked there as an actress for almost two years, but I couldn’t stand it any longer and I left. I moved to Gori and started working in the Gori Theatre. My father was known there too and they threw me on the scene right away. But I couldn’t endure working there for more than one year. I kept saying – ,,I don’t want to be on the scene, I’m not an actress’’. But it looks like I had some skills and I got roles. I’ll tell you why I left the theatre. Once the director called me and told me, there is a play – ‘’Emilia Galotti’’ and you can make decorations for it. I agreed. I was sitting for two months in the library and was reading about life in old England – what they wore, how they lived and I made 4-5 previews. One day I went to the theatre and I saw a list of actors and who was playing whom. And I saw the decorator’s job and across it there was another name, not mine. It turned out that at the end the director didn’t trust me and they didn’t even bother to tell me earlier. Even though they knew I was working on it for two months in the library, preparing myself for the performance. I was heartbroken. I left immediately. I didn’t write any statement or anything and after that I never returned back to the theater. And by the way, I did great to leave.’’
56 Years in the Gori Art School
‘’I already knew that there was a school of art in Gori, founded 5 years ago. I found the school by asking for directions. There was a small hut in the yard. I went inside and met Ana Peradze, whose name the school now carries. I told her my story. She saw my work and told me ,,Guliko, I don’t have any teaching hours available right now, but I am giving you my hours. You have to come and work at my school.’’ Since then I am working here, in the last October it has been already 56 years. I received a lot of support from Ana Feradze. I remember, I was living very far from school and she helped me rent an apartment near her house. She often invited me over for dinner. God, she had such great respect for me…
I had my first and only personal exhibition this year in Gori, which was initiated by the current director of the school. She is my former student and when she saw my work, she got the idea to organize an exhibition for my work. Actually, the length of the exhibition was one week but they continued it for three weeks. Students were coming from different schools, they were asking about the drawings and I was giving a lecture. Well, I spent three weeks in the exhibition hall. I was actually studying painting, but in fact, I was always working in graphics. I took graphics to the level of painting and probably I am distinct for this technique.
In general, whatever I did everything came out well. For example, I built my house with income from sewing. Nobody knew me as a painter… I was renting a room from one good woman. She lent me a sewing machine and I started sewing. Then I got so many clients that I was sitting 8 hours daily and sewing dresses. But as soon as I built this house, I didn’t continue. The sewing was a temporary work since I needed some money for the house. I didn’t want to be a tailor and wanted to go back to my main job. That’s why I didn’t give the new address to anybody. Thank god, I got back to painting.’’
The marriage of an artistic woman
‘’When people ask where I met Alexei Cherkasov, I’m answering in Africa. I’ll elaborate. Alexei was a pianist and was touring Africa for three months. At the same time the younger son of Ana Peradze was on a business trip as a pediatric in Africa. They got to know each other and became friends. Whenever Alex was touring in Tbilisi, he was staying with them. Ana Peradze had been dead for a long time and we decided on a remembrance of her. Since she also wrote poems, we made the remembrance about it. Of course, we also invited her family members. Coincidentally, Alexei was in Tbilisi too and he attended the evening with Ana’s son. By his request, Aleksei played some compositions. After the evening, we went to the restaurant, Aleksei asked me my address and I gave it to him.
After a week, I received a letter of seven pages, where he wrote his entire biography. I sent a short thank-you letter. After that, I received two letters every week, my mailbox was full of his letters. He wrote me his stories – where he was, with whom he played, etc. One day I get a telegram saying he was coming to Tbilisi, wanted to spend New Year’s Eve with us and asked me to pick him up from the airport. Of course, I complied. When we came home, he put his suitcase down and said “I am not going anywhere.’’ It was really a miracle – the man came as a guest and didn’t want to leave. He was telling my relatives and family members, I’m already in love with this woman, I am serious about marrying her. Everyone advised me to marry him, told me, he was a famous pianist and an educated man. He came from a good family – his brother was a well-known conductor and the chief musical editor in the Soviet television. His uncle was the lead actor of the movie ‘’Ivan the Terrible ‘’, buried next to Pushkin. And his father was a mayor. They lived in Leningrad and when the war began in 1941, Stalin gave to his family an amazing apartment in Moscow, where they moved. During the whole war, General Cherkasov was sitting in front of Stalin as an adviser, not letting him go to the war.
What kinds of emotions I had on his insistence on marriage? I was 42 years old and I had never imagined having a husband before and I didn’t want to be married. I thought I will just be on my own, painting, why do I need a husband? But what could I do? I couldn’t let him go. I can’t lie, I didn’t have enough time to fall in love with him. But we had great respect for each other and I think it’s essential for a couple.
It surprised me too when Aliosha moved to Gori. He was saying, I feel calm and relaxed here. He started working in the Tbilisi concert hall. Everybody knew him – the whole musical society and the whole city. Of course, he toured often, but he loved his life in Gori. In general, he was a very good man – loyal and hospitable. For example, he prepared food and brought to construction workers. Then he told me excitedly, you know how interesting these people are, they ask for my stories and I’m hearing theirs.
However, artistic men demand a lot of time and support. He was playing piano for 8 hours every single day. When a man goes to work in the morning and comes back in the evening, that’s acceptable. But if the husband is at home the whole day, you are going to work and he is waiting for you at home, it’s a terrible feeling.
For me as an artist, my husband was very disturbing. We were 11 years together and I have done only three works in all those years, no more. ‘’You have to paint, you have to paint!’’ – He kept telling me. I have to, but when?! I am working, then I have to come to the home, prepare food and all those stuff, then we played backgammon, so when could I actually paint? I was worried that I couldn’t paint that often, but I never regretted living with this man. We were happy, we respected each other and traveled together a lot. Aliosha would never leave me and always kept me by his side. 11 years spent with him was exhausting but very interesting.
If I had an opportunity, I would probably be a musician too. By the way, I played the guitar very well. Then I said, there is no place for two musicians in one family and I stopped playing. Do you know what Aliosha did once? He was playing Rachmaninoff’s second concert and I was sitting in the next room. He took the wrong chord by purpose. Of course, I heard that and knocked on the wall. He entered the room and said: ‘’Oh, you bitch.’’ I loved music from childhood and I have great hearing. That’s why I could understand him, as an artist.
In 1988-1989 Aliosha was invited to work in Paris. He hated communists and was telling me ‘’Gulinka, soon the communists will be extinct, the borders will be open and we will go. You’re painting, I’m playing the piano, we don’t need any other language there and we’ll be just as happy.’’ I nodded, but I was thinking, how I can leave this place?! I couldn’t leave Georgia even if they gave me my weight in gold. I inherited patriotism from my father. Even though I didn’t feel appreciated in this country or in this city, I still don’t really want to talk about that… If Aliosha didn’t pass away in 1990, I’d probably go to Paris.’’
Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photographer: Salome Tsopurashvili
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili