• Indigenous Outsiders: Endangered Islamic Heritage in the Republic of Georgia
    Suzanne Harris-Brandts and Angela Wheeler
    Contemporary Art Space Batumi, January 2018
    Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, May 2018
    Suzanne Harris‐Brandts & Angela Wheeler

Sakuneti (საკუნეთი) village mosque, Georgia, 1927. Photo: Vladimer Shioshvili.

Indigenous Outsiders documents the architectural heritage of the minority Muslim Laz community in the Republic of Georgia, as a step toward preserving this vanishing cultural legacy. Distinctive wooden mosques (ca. 1845–1920) face deterioration after decades of Soviet re-purposing, and now, state indifference, amid a growing nationalism tethered to Orthodox Christianity. Despite a centuries-old presence, the Laz are increasingly depicted as outsiders within their own homelands. The project showcases over twenty mosques as expressions of vernacular Islamic architecture, underscoring the diversity of the global Muslim experience. The work further reflects the complications facing ethnic groups from an age of empire now divided by borders in an era of resurgent nationalism. Beyond a catalogue of mosque typologies, Indigenous Outsiders explores the role of historic preservation in national memory. As vessels of memory and collective history, Laz mosques hold contemporary relevance for national identity and community belonging in Georgia.

Suzanne Harris-Brandts is a Canadian architect and PhD student in urban studies and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work examines the politics of architecture, particularly with regards to symbols of power and national identity in the post-Soviet South Caucasus and Occupied Palestinian Territories. Prior to her doctoral studies, she received an MArch from the University of Waterloo. Her work has been published and exhibited in various international outlets, and she has worked at design/research practices across the globe, including in Toronto, Vancouver, London, the West Bank, and Abu Dhabi.

Angela Wheeler is a PhD student in architecture at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. Her work explores heritage, national identity, and architectural history in the former Soviet Union. After working with the International Council of Monuments and Sites as a Fulbright research grantee in Tbilisi, she completed an MSc in Historic Preservation at Columbia University (2016). Her thesis, Socialist in Form, National in Content, investigated the historical turn in late Soviet architecture and attempts to reconcile historic preservation with Soviet ideology in the Brezhnev era. She recently contributed a chapter on mosques of Russia and the Caucasus to Rizzoli's forthcoming Mosques: Splendors of Islam (2017) and is currently writing the Tbilisi volume for DOM's Architectural Guides series (2018).