All roads lead to Rome

Georgian artist, painter and performer Megi Rome overcomes childhood trauma in her one-woman show.

By JENNIFER GREENBERG
May 15, 2018 21:53
4 minute read.
MEGI ROME’S self-portrait: “Art saved my life.”

MEGI ROME’S self-portrait: “Art saved my life.”. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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With anti-sexual harassment efforts such as the familiar #Metoo movement spreading across the globe, we’re seeing more and more women stand up and (re)gain their voice, especially in Israel.

First, director Sigal Avin distinguished the very crossable, very vulnerable line that defines sexual harassment in the workplace through her #ThatsHarassment campaign; while just days ago, the stereotype-breaking, body-positive Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest with “Toy,” a song that was heavily inspired by the #Metoo movement.

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Starting May 17, another extremely pertinent, yet barely talked about #Metoo issue will be addressed. That issue is “bride kidnapping,” and the woman coming forward to tell her tragic tale – shared by countless young Georgian girls past and present – is none other than artist/painter/performer Megi Rome.

Rome will recount her raw autobiography in the form of a one-woman show at the Tel Aviv Office Gallery this month, paired with piano compositions and arrangement, and an exhibition of elaborate, emotional artwork to support her narrative.

Born in Tbilisi, Rome led a pleasant childhood, protected by “fascinating landscapes.”

Captivated by the boundlessness of her surroundings – “I could imagine everything as borderless, infinite, possible” – young Rome was oblivious to the shocking events taking place in more remote surrounding areas, where little girls were being kidnapped for sex and marriage by older men.

Their move to Yaffo Dalet would open her eyes to what she called a “dark epoch” of that same emotional abuse, rape, and trauma too unimaginable for any 14-year-old to endure.

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The first attempted kidnapping took place when she was barely 13. Thankfully, Rome jumped from the moving car in the nick of time. Her would-be kidnapper was determined though, and a year later, devised an elaborate plan involving a nurse’s uniform, a fake story about a car crash, and a five-day kidnapping. This time, he was successful.

The title of Rome’s play, Not Worth a Hair Pin, stems from those first five days.

“I was moved around a lot at first to avoid the police,” says Rome. “In one of the places I was held, this big landlord visited me with a black hairpin. He warned, ‘You see this hair pin? From now on, you are this man’s wife, and you are not worth even a hairpin without him.’” Those five days, however, paled in comparison to the seeming lifetime that followed: eight years of turmoil, enslavement, testimonies, and a baby boy.

So how does one get through such a thing? “Art saved my life,” Rome says with a smile, seemingly at peace with her tragic past. After 10 years of artist’s block, with a little inspiration from British painter Lucian Freud Rome finally returned to painting.

On top of her narrative performance, which will take place on May 21 and a week later on the 28th under the direction of Shuli Cohen, every piece of artwork that fills the gallery space functions as an equally rich chapter in Rome’s memoir.

For instance, a series of flying pianos with metal wings represents her travels from one hardship to another, one crisis to another, until she finally reached a safe harbor and overcame her difficulties. This image of flying pianos saved her life, she says, becoming her “closest friend. I asked [the piano] to convince me that my troubles were episodic, that they would eventually fly away, too.”

Rome will also feature classical music in her play (specifically Bach), as well as traditional Georgian compositions (translated to Hebrew). Georgia is quite appreciative and supportive of Rome’s bravery in emerging from the shadows to tell a story that is sadly all too familiar in the Caucasus region. Not only is the ambassador of Georgia attending the opening event on May 17, but the Georgian literary community approached Rome about translating Not Worth a Hair Pin to Georgian, for performance at the country’s national theater.

“I’m honored that the Georgians have adopted me,” Rome beams. “This horrible tradition of bride kidnapping really needs to stop. If I could have even a hairpin of influence on this social phenomenon, I would be forever at ease.”

Remarried with two beautiful children, Rome refused to give up on her desire for a “normal” family.

She ends by offering advice for young girls currently trapped in this horrible situation: “From experience, I’d like to advise those young girls to fight for their opinions and their desires – to not give up for any price, to believe in themselves and in their talents.

Everybody has a talent, and if you keep at it, one day people will know who you are and appreciate you for your work.”

Watch Megi Rome’s story come to life at the Office Gallery in Tel Aviv throughout the month.

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