After its first appearance with its own pavilion at Venice Biennale in 2007, Azerbaijan continues its efforts to build its cultural profile abroad says Nafas art magazine. In 2008 two group shows were held in Germany:
- Steps of Time. Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan in Dresden’s Residenzschloss (June 13 – July 20, 2008) and
- Art is not only ugly in the atrium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin (July 14 – Aug. 7, 2008).
Steps in Time, Dresden
Steps of Time presents Azerbaijan’s modern art in three chapters, aiming to show the specific characteristics of three generations of artists.
The two artists Leyla Akhundzade and Sabina Shikhlinskaya, together with Mathias Wagner of the Dresden Art Collections, conceived the exhibition. Leyla Akhundzade, who is also a curator and Professor for Art History at the State Academy of Art, founded the artists association Zamanyn ganadlany (wings of time) at the end of the 1990s, when the social and political situation in Azerbaijan had stabilized again after the war with Armenia and domestic political tensions.
Flashback: Painters born 1920s to 1940s
They worked in a time dominated by the doctrine of Socialist Realism; but they began to modernize it, especially in the 1960s. Taking up national traditions like carpet art, with its rich, colorful ornamentation, and medieval miniature painting, they found their own independent pictorial solutions beyond the ideologically-freighted narrative style.
Interaction with the neo-abstract tendencies of Western art of the 1960s to 1980s also provided new impulses. This development in painting was most concentrated in the School of Absheron, named for a peninsula in the Caspian Sea where many painters spent time working. But the great painter figure in Azerbaijan is Tahir Salahov, known as a proponent of the Rigorous Style in the 1960s of the Soviet era and famed for his 1959 painting Oil Tanks.
Artists: Kamal Ahmad, Eldar Gurbanov, Farhad Khalilov, Javad Mirjavadov, Ashraf Murad, Altay Sadigzade, Tahir Salahov, Mir Nadir Zeynalov
USSR-Remix: Painters born 1950s and 1960s
An interesting intermediate link is the chapter USSR Remix, which includes works by artists who artistically question their own Soviet molding. The representatives of the middle generation reflect their personal fates as well as collective experiences and often use the media, in part new for them, of photography, video, and installation. Here, not only are outlived cultural codes rethought; artistic forms of language are also actively explored. Rena Effendi’s 2006 photograph Robots in Front of a Soviet Machine Factory impressively contrasts the rusted symbol of a once-promised technical and social progress with the mostly deserted post-industrial landscape.
Primarily works by this generation were to be seen at Azerbaijan’s pavilion at the Venice Biennial 2007; Leyla Akhundzade was its commissioner and curator.
Artists: Yeshim Agaoglu, Leyla Akhundzade, Sanan Aleskerov, Chingiz Babayev, Rena Effendi, Hussein Hagverdiyev, Bahram Khalilov, Aga Ousseinov, Sabina Shikhlinskaya
The third chapter shows works by mostly very young artists who experienced the time before 1991 only as children and who today are concerned with questions of national identity and the consequences of the radical economic and societal transformations in their country. Rashad Alekberov’s installation Made in China reflects the relationship between the globalized world’s mass culture shaped by cheap Chinese goods and the former Asian high culture, barely visible as a shadow of itself.
Artists: Faig Ahmed, Rashad Alekberov, Babi Badalov, Teymur Daimi, Elshan Ibrahimov, Rauf Khalilov, Farkhad Farzaliyev, Orkhan Huseynov, Shahin Malikzadeh, Fakhriyya Mammadova, Jeyhun Ojadov, Farid Rasulov
Art is not only ugly, Berlin
Leyla Akhundzade also curated the exhibition Art is not only ugly in the atrium of the Foreign Office in Berlin. The title refers to a challenge that Azeri artists feel confronted with by the international art discourse: they want to preserve traditional artistic values like aesthetic beauty, while simultaneously reflecting current societal and artistic developments. Leyla Akhundzade writes that for Azeri art the fascination and diction of Realism is always countered by the dream of a different and wonderful world.
Artists: Sanan Aleskerov, Rashad Alekberov, Orkhan Aslanov, Rena Effendi, Rauf Khalilov, Vugar Muradov, Elchin Musaoglu, Niyaz Najafov, Farid Rasulov, Teymur Rustamov, Makhmud Rustamov
For more images and original article NAFAS art magazine