Everything OK not OK documents the young people of Tbilisi, Georgia

Amsterdam-based photographer Piet Oosterbeek captures a twofold story of Georgian youth through a striking series of portraits and landscapes.

7 February 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is still one of the many places in the world that does not accept homosexuality. The Orthodox Church remains to be a superior power and the conservative majority often disapproves of alternate lifestyles. It’s a subject that has interested Piet Oosterbeek for a while now, and in a new documentary series, he captures a twofold story about the young people of Tbilisi.

“The appearance of these Tbilisi youths is an act of resistance against the church and prevailing conservative norms and values in their country,” says the Dutch photographer of the series’ subjects. Photographing seemingly small gestures – dyed hair or piercings – he hints to the expressive undercurrents bubbling up through Georgian youth, in turn, revealing their stories in the evocative photography series.

Since 2008, the Amsterdam-based photographer has centred his practice on themes of identity, particularly those speaking out over the established order. It’s an exploration that has seeped into his personal life, questioning his own literal and figurative place in the world, which has led him to position an inquisitive lens to each and every shot he captures. Through a mixture of striking portraits and landscapes, he reveals a nuanced narrative to the people and the structural environment of Tbilisi. In turn, juxtaposing and speaking out against the sociopolitical climate that the photographed youngsters grew up surrounded by.

Before he ventured in the realms of photography, however, Piet was a budding graphic designer, having become impassioned by the medium through graffiti. But during his studies, he came into contact with photography and found a freedom of expression through the communication of images. “With photography,” he tells us, “just like with graffiti, I could say what I stood for without talking. This was, and still is, a good medium for me. It’s a necessary feeling which motives me to make work, even though I don’t stutter that much anymore,” he adds of his previous linguistic issues.


Piet Oosterbeek: Everything OK not OK

As a child who stuttered a lot, Piet felt like everything was a struggle. “I did not even dare to go to the bakery to order breakfast because I couldn’t come out with words,” he says of this difficult period of time. It’s this experience of feeling like he had to constantly fight, which has continued to influence his practice today, which eventually led him to the streets of Tbilisi to tell a different kind (but equally important) of story. “On the inside, I still feel like someone who stutters a lot,” he adds, and channelling this fervour to overcome obstacles, Piet strives to raise awareness around other peoples’ struggles through photography. “I always look for the hard way to prove that I exist,” he adds. “Maybe that is also why I like to make work. It’s still a remnant of my handicap.”

Piet first became aware of the situation in Tbilisi through a friend. He came across YouTube videos of demonstrations from 2013 and 2018, showing police raids attacking LGBTQ+ clubs under the guise of combatting drug trafficking. In one protest against this kind of action, radical nationalists even “violently crushed” the protestors. Once Piet was in actually in Tbilisi working on the project, he heard plenty more about the suppressed situation from the people it affects most. Rati, who features in Everything OK not OK further enlightened Piet on the situation at hand, giving context to the series. And with his help, Piet explains “everything fell into place.”

In another poignant portrait, Mariam is photographed in her neighbourhood Dighomi II. She wears her father’s priest robes, a signal to the community that rejects her lifestyle. “For me, it was the best thing she could have out on, and I didn’t even ask for it,” continues Piet. He photographs her against the backdrop of concrete high rises which regularly pepper the Georgian landscape. “The flats in my series are a metaphor for the old ideas of the church and society,” says Piet. “I think the whole story is represented in this image.”

GalleryPiet Oosterbeek: Everything OK not OK

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Piet Oosterbeek: Everything OK not OK

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.


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