Fire devastates national art collection in Abkhazia

Over 4,000 artworks were lost in a catastrophic fire that swept through the Central Exhibition Hall in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, last Sunday.

The conflagration was reported to emergency services in the South Caucasus nation at approximately 3:38 am, prompting an immediate response with 11 firefighting teams, as reported by local news outlets. Despite their efforts, the blaze was not brought under control until 7 am, by which time the vast majority of the artwork had been destroyed.

Dinara Smyr, the acting minister of culture, expressed the extent of the tragedy, stating that “everything has been destroyed.”

“The National Art Gallery’s second-floor collections, which included over 4,000 pieces, have been decimated. This includes as many as 300 pieces by the esteemed Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze,” Smyr conveyed to Apsnypress, emphasizing the cultural significance of the loss.

Suram Sakania, the director of the National Art Gallery, described the loss to Abkhazian cultural heritage as “immeasurable.”

In despair, he said, “I am walking around in tears. It’s a disaster.” He relayed that firefighters believe the fire originated on the roof, likely due to an electrical malfunction.

The gallery, established in 1964, has been a prestigious venue for both local and international artists, showcasing the works of notable Abkhazian artist Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze.

Since its inception, the Central Exhibition Hall has stood as a pivotal cultural landmark. Esteemed artists such as M. Eshba, O. Brendel, I. Tsomaya, and V. Ivanba contributed their works to the gallery’s initial collection of 100 paintings and 20 sculptures.

Ezekiel Lazarevich Fishkov, an art aficionado and physician from Sukhum, was instrumental in the founding of the gallery. He generously donated a portion of his residence and 60 paintings to the gallery, including works by Russian artists who had visited Abkhazia in the early 20th century.

Image: Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze