A platform brimming with self-portraits, aesthetic oddities, and identity curation, the world of Instagram seems tailor-made for artists whose work transforms appearances and the human body. It’s proved a perfect home for the queer, curious and wonderfully excessive work of Georgian mask-maker Shalva Nikvashvili. A hidden gem of an Insta account, Nikvashvili uses @shalvanikvashvili to document and share the beguilingly bizarre masks he makes from unconventional materials.
Nikvashvili began making masks after being inspired by banal objects and the transformative possibilities they might hold. “I started to collect things from the street” Nikvashvili remembers, “looking in second-hand shops or in my own flat for anything that I thought I could use for my work”. A computer keyboard, balled up tights, Barbie dolls, stubbed out ciggies, bike tires and a raw chicken carcass—these are but some of the ‘fabrics’ Nikvashvili has sliced, sewn, sculpted and shaped into a new face. “Realising that I had, and still have, limitations when it came to materials makes me even more inspired,” the artist explains. His unique resourcefulness in the face of restrictions can be seen throughout his entire design process. “When I’ve created works out of meat or vegetables I always kept a recipe next to it—I’ve turned masks into our evening dinners.”
Nikvashvili’s pieces come to life through the process of wearing – he mainly shares and immortalises his masks online through self-portraits. As a result, his Instagram is a patchwork curation of curious of monsters that slightly resemble him—from odd paper bag beings with pinhole eyes to catwalk-ready creatures swathed in leather. And yet, despite how his masks conceal and cocoon his face, Nikvashvili’s work never feels like he’s hiding. Growing up as a gay man in Georgia—a notoriously hostile environment for LGBTQ+ people—meant Nikvashvili has faced pressure throughout his life to suppress his identity. He now uses masks to fight fiercely against societal expectations and enforced self-shame. “Through masks, I sort my memories, emotions and my observations on the world and give them their own identities – they become parasites taking over a new body”. Nikvashvili’s Instagram showcases the revealing, expressive potential to these objects—whilst also offering a feast of aesthetic delights that will enliven anyone’s daily scroll.