Empty land, Promised land, Forbidden land

Empty land, Promised land, Forbidden land is the result of four trips together with writer Arnold van Bruggen between 2007 and 2013 to the tiny country of Abkhazia. Abkhazia is isolated, ruined, and seemingly without ambition. The country broke away from Georgia after a short, violent civil war in ’92-’93 and was recognized as independent in 2008 by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and the atoll of Nauru. The story is particularly tragic for the thousands of refugees who fled in the early nineties and have little prospect of returning. We visited the refugees in Georgia and described the attempts made by the Abkhazian government to repopulate the empty, war-ravaged country with new immigrants.


Remembering the war
Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2013

“I want to think, do, and dream Abkhazian. But I often think and dream in Russian and many of our traditions have been lost.”

Angela Pataraya, Sukhum, Abkhazia


Found photo in one of the many empty houses
Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2010


Novy Rayon
Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2009


Novy Rayon
Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2013

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President, prison director, post administrator and other government officials, 2010.

“We need the courage to look forward, not to look back so much”

Milana Vozba, Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2013


Milana Vozba, student at the Abkhaz State University
Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2010


Monkey laboratory
Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2010

tkuarchal_old tkuarchal_new

Mining Town
Tkuarchal, Abkhazia, 2009/2013


Tribute to war casualties
Tkuarchal, Abkhazia, 2010


Nikolay Yefremovich Zetunyan
Nizhny Eshera, Abkhazia, 2009

There’s an ongoing crusade against Abkhazia. It’s as if the Cold War mentality still prevails

Viacheslav Chirikba, Sukhum, Abkhazia, 2013


Nikolay Yefemovich Zetunyan
Nizhny Eshera, Abkhazia, 2010

Angela Pataraya
Gagra, Abkhazia, 2010

“Georgia can’t give up Abkhazia, just like you can’t give up your liver.”

Gogo Khaindrava, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2007


Refugee shelter in former kindergarten
Shamgona, Georgia, 2010


Ketevan and Dimitri
Tbilisi, Georgia, 2007


Ketevan and Ana
Tbilisi, Georgia, 2010

God gave his land and language to the grateful Abkhazians who had proved to be so hospitable and courteous. When he left, God issued one more warning. ‘Everyone will desire your country like a beautiful young woman. It will be difficult to protect. If your descendants cannot protect it, they will melt away like snow in the spring. But if they do, the country will remain theirs. Then it will be a beautiful country.”

—Opening story book



Text: Arnold van Bruggen. Design: Kummer & Herrman.

‘Empty land, Promised land, Forbidden land’ is the result of several trips to Abkhazia since 2007. The book became a journey of discovery, not only of the country itself but also of the places where the refugees live. One reviewer described the publication as a “boy’s book” and a tribute to the indomitable Caucasian. The second revised edition from 2013 is slightly smaller than the original edition and has been updated with new photography and developments.

Utrecht, The Netherlands: self-published, 2010. English, hardbound with photo-illustrated boards, 272 pages, 93 color photographs, 19.4 x 25.1 cm (7 5/8 x 9 7/8 in.)

Reprint: Utrecht, The Netherlands: self-published, 2013. English, hardbound with photo-illustrated boards, 272 pages, 101 color photographs, 17.2 x 22 cm (6 4/5 x 8 5/8 in.)


‘We are sorry that we are late. We were getting ready to go to God’s gathering when we met a poor man who was dressed in ragged clothing and hungry. We cooked for him, fed and clothed him and lost track of time.’ The other races laughed at the Abkhazians: ‘What kind of country do you think that you
will get now?’

—Opening story book

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EFTI, Madrid, Spain, 2016


FreeLens, Hamburg, Germany, 2011


The exhibition ‘Empty land, Promised land, Forbidden land’ was first shown in Freelens Galerie in Hamburg in 2011. It consists of 33 framed works, including 28 photographs, two large quotes and a map of the region. All works are 50 x 60 cm (19 2/3 x 23 2/3 in.) and packed in wooden crates. A specially produced catalog interacts through reference numbers with the images in the exhibition. This allows the viewer to experience the country’s complexity at their own pace. Copies of the catalogue and original book will be delivered with the exhibition.

Required dimensions for this exhibition: 30 - 50 running meters of wall. Exhibitions are custom designed and adapted to the interior of the hosting institution. Recent exhibitions about Abkhazia were updated with new work on newsprint and included videos on small screens. For more information and rental prices, please contact studio@robhornstra.com.


Freelens Galerie, Hamburg, Germany (2011)


Freelens Galerie, Hamburg, Germany (2011)


foam magazine, March 2011

“The texts and photographs testify to the breadth and depth of the research undertaken by the two authors. The result is a book of self-assigned and self-published journalism done in a way never seen before.”

—Sebastian Hau, foam magazine, 2011


de Volkskrant (Dutch), January 2011


nrc.next (Dutch), November 2010


Photo response (France), February 2011