This research analyses socio-cultural aspects of urban society in the city of Tbilisi, according to the urban inscriptions/graffiti in the city, which the author also refers to as urban narratives. These urban inscriptions ‘talk’ about or ‘narrate’ the people creating it. The research is based on the principles of visual anthropology which emphasizes the interpretation of socio-cultural aspects, according to visual markers. It is also important to mention that the field of visual anthropology is relatively new in Georgia.
Photo fixation, as a method, was the major source of picturing the urban inscriptions during the research, so photo sources in the image-based research and the objectivity of photography are also highlighted. An anthropological method used in this study is participant observation, as well as several interviews used for understanding attitudes of Tbilisi citizens towards urban inscriptions.
Also, in the study, a scientific article by Setha Low is discussed, which examines the anthropology of cities and looks at the different types of cities formed. During the research examples of types of cities, which refer to Tbilisi by its graffiti, were identified, linking to socio-cultural aspects of urban society.
Urban inscriptions are created by society and emerge as an accurate indicator of situations related to ‘lived’ society. Socio-cultural aspects of urban society in Tbilisi were identified by analyzing the graffiti in the city.
The categories of graffiti in Tbilisi, are given in an article by Tamta Khalvashi, where urban inscriptions are also referred to as urban media (Khalvashi is probably the only source discussing graffiti in Tbilisi). Many of the categories of graffiti identified in the present research are similar to the ones offered by Khalvashi:-
- Territorial Graffiti – urban inscriptions made for bordering territorial units in the city, linked to the forming of micro suburban groups in Tbilisi
- Musical Inscriptions – present the most popular musical styles in the city such as rock and rap
- Inscriptions of names (Tags) – present the names of people as a form of self-realization
- Political Graffiti – reflects the current political imbalance and political attitudes of city dwellers
Also an interesting fact emerged – most of the inscriptions in public places are written in the Latin alphabet, even though they convey the content in the Georgian language. This phenomena links to so called ‘Aloglotography’ (meaning writing in other alphabets), as used in e-mails, sms-s and other modern communication technology in the XXI century, which commonly use the Latin alphabet.
Almost every city category is seen the graffiti in Tbilisi, but the most frequent categories are the ethnic city, the divided city, the contested city, the gender city, the religious city and the cultural city. The ethnocentric inscriptions are also widely represented in the city of Tbilisi, which may indicate some xenophobia within people living there.
During interviews with city people it was concluded that most of them think graffiti is vandalism (which is not part of the present research topic). After mentioning the categories identified by this research, the responses showed that people never considered that graffiti or simple inscriptions on the public surfaces actually provide insightful information about city people.