Georgian Modernism of the 1910s and 1920s is an exceptionally interesting and significant phase of Georgian culture, equivalent to the Western avant-garde of the 20th century. This period, which saw an extraordinarily active and "sober" cultural life, should first of all be explained by the political situation in Georgia at that time: the country's short-lived independence and its active contact with Europe. Unlike in Russia and the European countries, the fine arts in Georgia had to undergo the centuries-old development of realistic art at an incredibly accelerated pace. The dynamics of this development of artistic processes places Georgian culture in an entirely unique position at the beginning of the 20th century, when the creation of a new artistic form became the main concern of Georgian Modernism. Its goal was to establish a new, "modern" national form, which would be deeply Georgian and at the same time international, in order to fit organically into the global cultural context by bringing Eastern and Western cultural heritage together Georgia’s. Thus, it naturally came about that the new generation of artists on the one hand started researching Georgian art of the Middle Ages, and on the other hand strove to learn the fine art of Western avant-garde and to articulate European Modernism through artistic forms and symbolism. After Georgia’s declaration of independence on May 26th 1918, the political, social and cultural center of the country moved to the capital. Georgian poets, writers, actors and directors began to gather in Tbilisi. Georgian artists who had studied abroad gradually returned to their homeland. The charm of this creatively-charged Tiflis was reinforced by the healthy political situation, which made the city more attractive to all those who had tired of the spirit of the old world, and needed a cozy haven for the birth of a new one. Tbilisi also provided a particularly favorable environment for the Russian cultural elite. In this way, the Georgian and non-Georgian artists who were based in Georgia became the main protagonists of Georgian Modernism and the international cultural life of the 1910-1920s. Among them was Emma Lalaeva-Ediberidze (ემა ლალაევა-ედიბერიძე), a resident of Tbilisi and female artist of Armenian origin.

Lali in a dress of her own design. 1920s

The artist’s full name was Emma Lalaeva-Ediberidze, although she preferred to use the creative pseudonym Lali. Emma Lalaeva usually signed her works Lali/ლალი//Lallo/Лали. It seems as though she wanted to remain in history and be known among the global community by this pseudonym. Lali was born in Tbilisi in 1904 into the family of Arkady Lalayants (Lalaev), a photographer from Tbilisi and the owner of a photographic studio in what was formerly Yerevan Square (modern-day Freedom Square). She had been fascinated by art since childhood, and by 1921 was already enrolled at an art studio. Betweeen 1924 and 1928, she continued her studies in the Faculty of Graphics at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. In 1928, as a result of family matters, Lali left the art academy and decided to move to Moscow, where she enrolled in a decorative department. Nonetheless, she was unable to realize her dream, and ultimately stayed in Tbilisi and continued an active creative life there. In 1930, Emma Lalaeva married Giorgi Ediberidze – a professional engineer and geologist who had been educated in Germany. However, soon afterwards the couple’s life took a tragic turn: in 1938 Ediberidze fell victim to the Soviet repressions. Left a single mother of two young sons, Lali tried her hand at almost every genre of painting. She worked simultaneously as a painter, graphic artist, cartoonist, book designer, decorator, and stage and garment designer. She created bookplates and decorated Soviet feasts. Despite her active creative life, the artist was traumatized by the Soviet repressive system and rarely participated in exhibitions. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why Lali disappeared ​​ for a long time from the history of Georgian art.

Portrait from Memory (Portrait of the Artist’s Husband). 37.5x38.5. Indian ink, watercolor and paper. 1920s

Nevertheless, it needs to be pointed out that Emma Lalaeva-Ediberidze is an exceptionally interesting representative of 1920s art. Lali was one of the most "leftist" painters among Georgian artists of that time. Her works clearly manifest an enhanced interest towards western avant-garde. As a bold artist from the early 20th century with an actively creative position, Lali tried her hand at almost all the avant-garde movements (Futurism, Cubo-futurism, Luchism (Rayonism), Constructivism, etc.), but she did not adhere to any of them in their pure form. The artist managed to create her own style without imitating anyone else. It should be noted from the very beginning that Lali was, first and foremost, a graphic artist who used a linear-graphic style as the leading motif in her paintings. Most of her works were executed on paper and more often on cardboard, where she utilized pencil, ink, sanguine, watercolor and gouache. In each specific case this determined her artistic image. Despite the similarities and differences, all her works have one common feature: the leading role of painting in a picture. The composition and color are subdued, making the line a dominant element.

22 Griboedov Street. 21x27. Sanguine on paper. 1925-1927

Lalaeva-Ediberidze’s artistic individuality is best confirmed by her personally developed artistic method, whereby the artist simultaneously applied to several movements and synthesized them within one work. One of such examples is the work “22 Griboedov Street” made with the use of black sanguine, where cubist, futurist and constructivist techniques meet each other on the same surface in order to produce the effect of cinematography – a particularly fascinating and compelling theme during the early 20th century – while the address of the title indicated the locus of their intersection (the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts). Cinematography – a completely new discipline that was created by means of technological progress – "excited" and interested numerous avant-garde artists throughout the entire world (the Georgian Davit Kakabadze, the Russian Kazimir Malevich, and the European Salvador Dali among others) both at the level of magical language and and that of theoretical discourse. This work employs the method of futuristic simultaneity to present a fragmented street landscape. The different angles of the interior and exterior that are assembled as a "collage" are partly produced in a graphic cubist manner, and are arranged either overlapping each other, resembling transparent surfaces, or located adjacent to each other. It is no accident that the mentioned painting and many other works by Lalaeva are visually associated with the cinematography of that period, with their reserved achromatic character. Some of the works are black-and-white graphics on yellow-toned paper. Due to the specific character of black sanguine as a material, the artist had the opportunity to produce a rich gradation of the color black: ranging from pure dark black to the lightest, whitish-gray tones. That is, with their colorless but specifically achromatic appearance, the works really do resemble early cinema. If we also consider the characteristic theme of the compositions, the manner of cinematic narration and its fragmentation, the unexpected angles and dynamism, we will undoubtedly be persuaded that the main task of the artist was to ‘project’ the given effect.

Cinematographic Motif. 14.5x16.5. Pencil and watercolor on paper. 1927

Lallo. 68x59.5. Indian ink and pencil on paper. 1926

Portrait of a Man in a Blue Jacket. 28.5x22. Watercolor on paper. 1920s

When contemplating Lali's works and their story line, the viewer’s attention is drawn to unusual compositions built upon the simultaneous juxtaposition of images or scenes that are unrelated to each other in terms of content. In some cases, it becomes obvious that the artist wished to develop a creative reality – different from the real empirical world and operating based on completely different laws. Her narrative does not obey the known logic of relationships between objects. The "edited" compositions of unrelated, quite realistically rendered images offer us a strange, surreal environment, where individual objects are realistic in certain ways but their interrelationship is unreal. These rather subjectivistic (and non-subjective) associative connections do not show the visible objects, but rather the invisible, unconditional "intentional links" between them. The artist seems to want to "open the eyes" of the viewers; to reveal the invisible threads between objects, people or events, and in this way to remind the audience about the order of things that remains inaccessible to humans. Accordingly, despite everything (namely the application of artistic means characteristic of the Avant-garde movement), the figurative elegance that is preserved in Lali’s works from the early 20th century is quite favorable for the artist. Moreover, it is more adequate than all possible versions since it does not prevent contact with the original impression of nature. Excessive application of cubist or futuristic manners, i.e. complete compliance with the "fine norms" of the mentioned movements, would unequivocally position the compositions firmly within their aesthetics and concept, which in turn would eliminate the author's own context. As already mentioned, Lali strove not to be too fascinated by the artistic methods of a specific movement so as not to limit her individuality. While operating using the particular styles of modernist movements, she managed to maintain a certain distance from each of them; to protect her own "sovereignty". As a result, she established her own individual style, and if we may say so, created her own trademark.

Self-portrait. 32.5x25. Pencil on paper. 1925

Industrial Composition. 62.5x54. Oil on canvas. 1925

As such, Emma Laleva-Ediberidze was an artist of individual style, who always trusted her own artistic taste and intuition when selecting a specific form or aesthetic technique. She made bold choices – a sign of her inner, creative freedom and integrity. Lali utilized her own personal dictionary of artistic means and shapes. Although it is possible that her base of "figurative words" or "etymological roots" often shared the forms of Russian or Western Avant-garde, following Lali’s individual creative processing they were transformed into a completely different art category.

Portrait of a Man in a Blue Jacket. 28.5x22. Watercolor on paper. 1920s. 

Composition. 25x29.5. Watercolor on cardboard. 1920s

At first glance she would appear to be less likely to fit among the ranks of other renowned Georgian modernist artists, whose art (especially after the 1920s) became relatively more balanced by "side effects" such as Georgian motifs, characteristic landscapes, or the ancient Georgian manner of stylization. However, these kinds of deviation (which in many cases became the only means of survival under the conditions in the recently Sovietized country) preserved the work of the greatest representatives of Georgian Modernism and, unlike Emma Lalaeva-Ediberidze, protected their names from the collective "artificial amnesia" so common to Soviet reality.