A Hippo Clad in Shorts and Slippers May Appear in Tbilisi
23 July, 2015
A Hippo Clad in Shorts and Slippers May Appear in Tbilisi
What’s the connection between a Georgian sculptor, the Tbilisi Flood and Sandra Bullock?

During the natural disaster in Tbilisi, a hippo that escaped the flooded zoo went for a walk around the nearby Heroes’ Square. Photos of him unabashedly strolling through the wrecked square have found much affection on the internet – to the point that he might soon become the city’s symbol.

“Tbilisi needs a friend, not just a symbolic hippo.”


The tragedy was still the talk of the
city when people suggested that sculptures of two animals – the hippo named Beglar and the white lion cub Shumba should decorate the zoo. But at present the main concern of the zoo is how to provide winter shelter to the animals that survived the flood, including the hippo himself.
Georgian Journal has recently discovered that Niko Abazadze, a Georgian artist living in the U.S., is also thinking about Beglar’s fate. He’s even made a model, which, in case Tbilisi’s authorities allow it, will serve as the basis for erecting the hippo’s sculpture. We contacted Niko, who eagerly and with pleasure explained to us his concept of a bronze hippo sitting on a concave bench:

“I am not going to take any money for the sculpture – instead, I want the commission fee to be used for the zoo’s restoration. Actually, Beglar’s current dwelling is inadequate to his needs, so let’s use the fee to build him a normal one.”

– Tbilisi needs a friend, not just a symbolic hippo. I designed one of the limbs of the hippo – who is envisioned sitting on a bench, clad in shorts and slippers - in such a way that whoever desires can make him hold flowers or a glass for cheering, or sit next to it and take a picture using a selfie stick. Currently I am thinking of where to place the sculpture. It should be easily accessible for everybody while not exceeding the hippo’s natural size. I’ll most likely have to consult an architect on this issue. In the end, it boils down to Tbilisi City Hall permitting the sculpture to be erected.
If the permission to proceed is issued, I am not going to take any money for the sculpture – instead, I want the commission fee to be used for the zoo’s restoration. Actually, Beglar’s current dwelling is inadequate to his needs, so let’s use the fee to build him a normal one.
Even though I have already made a model, I don’t insist that the sculpture is to be erected under my authorship. Maybe other artists are working on a similar concept as well. I think it will be appropriate to announce a tender and select the best work. Unfortunately, emigrants rarely participate in such activities due to lack of information. There are many talented Georgians living abroad, and their involvement may be useful for building both the city and the country.

“I have pleasant memories of my relationship with Sandra and her father. Charmed by her personality, I gifted her with a sculpture named “Entreaty.”’

– The model you made has a bird sitting on the hippo’s head. It’s a snipe, which is a well-known “dentist” in Africa. Is it intended as a cleaner of Beglar’s teeth?

– Yes, it’s Beglar’s snipe. However, in my sculptures, birds have a different significance. They are my calling card that distinguishes my sculptures from others. Almost every work of mine has a different bird sitting on it. The birds serve as the expression of the inner state of their “masters.”

– As the word goes, the fate of an artist is difficult regardless of where he is; it doesn’t seem easy to achieve success in America, either.

– Here, just like everywhere else, it is very difficult to sell works of art, especially sculptures. But I have plenty of commissions. I belong to small number of those lucky artists who can make their living from their profession. But in the beginning it was not easy: I painted on napkins in cheap cafes and then I managed to make ends meet by sketching portraits in the street. Then, commissions slowly began trickling in.
Once I was hired to restore and reconstruct old fireplaces for Sandra Bullock. Then she asked me to restore an antique table, and then other orders followed suit. In the final count, I ended up keeping a key to Sandra Bullock’s home in my pocket for three years. I have pleasant memories of my relationship with Sandra and her father. Charmed by her personality, I gifted her with a sculpture named “Entreaty.”

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