Major Fire Devastates Central Exhibition Hall in Sukhum

SUKHUM / AQW'A — A catastrophic fire engulfed the Central Exhibition Hall in Sukhum, the capital city renowned for regularly hosting exhibitions of Abkhaz and international artists. The blaze resulted in the tragic loss of over four thousand artworks, including up to 300 pieces by Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze, a significant figure in Abkhazian art.

Dinara Smyr, the Acting Minister of Culture, conveyed to Apsnypress the enormity of the loss. "It's as if everything has been destroyed. The second floor housed the collections of the National Art Gallery, with over 4000 works. Among them were up to 300 works by Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze. This is an irreplaceable loss for the national culture of Abkhazia," Smyr emphasised, highlighting the cultural significance of the disaster.

The emergency services received the fire alert at 03:38. Eleven fire units from Sukhum, Gudauta, Gulrypsh, and Ochamchira worked tirelessly to contain the blaze, which was eventually localized by seven in the morning. Smoke and visible flames were reported on the second floor where the fire was most intense.

The National Art Gallery's director, Suram Sakania, expressed his profound grief to Apsnypress. "I walk around crying. It's terrible. According to the firefighters, the fire started on the roof, likely due to an electrical fault. All the paintings are gone. The damage to Abkhazian culture is immeasurable," he lamented.

The Central Exhibition Hall, located on Lakoba Street in Sukhum, has been an essential cultural site since its establishment. The decision to create the Picture Gallery in Sukhum was made by the Council of Ministers of the Abkhazian ASSR on August 20, 1963. Notably, art connoisseur and Sukhum physician Ezekiel Lazarevich Fishkov played a crucial role in its foundation, donating part of his home and 60 paintings, including works by Russian artists who visited Abkhazia in the early 20th century.

The gallery's inauguration on March 17, 1964, saw Abkhaz artists like M. Eshba, O. Brendel, I. Tsomaya, and V. Ivanba donating their works, initially displaying 100 paintings and 20 sculptures. Over the years, the gallery's collection grew, systematically incorporating works by Abkhaz artists.

Significant developments in the gallery's history include the transfer of its exhibition to the building on Lakoba Street on May 17, 1985, the day of the reburial of renowned Abkhaz artist Alexander Chachba-Shervashidze. After the Patriotic War of the People of Abkhazia from 1992-1993, the gallery was temporarily closed. In 1994, it was renamed as the National Art Gallery and became an independent state institution.

Under the decision of Abkhazia's first President Vladislav Ardzinba in 1997, the gallery was allocated the building of the former pre-revolutionary women's gymnasium on Pushkin Street. Unfortunately, due to funding shortages, renovation works were soon halted.

This devastating fire not only destroyed a significant portion of Abkhazia's cultural heritage but also marks a sorrowful chapter in the history of the National Art Gallery, a repository of the nation's artistic achievements and memories.




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