YARAT, which takes its name from the Turkic word to create, has become the most active art organisation in Azerbaijan.
Founded in 2011 in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city, YARAT Contemporary Art Space aims to encourage people to take part in the creation of contemporary art. In two short years, YARAT has gained an outstanding position by introducing unconventional art to the wider public.
YARAT, which positions itself as “a space for contemporary art” as stated on the organisation’s website, is the brainchild of young Baku-born artist Aida Mahmudova. The organisation “was established to boost awareness of Azeri contemporary art and to create a market for Azeri artists both abroad and in Azerbaijan,” she said in a March 2013 interview with Suitcase Magazine.
Farid Abdullayev, Executive Director at YARAT, built on this statement in an email interview with Art Radar, saying “There is a fast growing demand for art activities in Baku as people wake up to the fact that there are multiple ways to express your creativity in a modern world”.
YARAT initially operated without physical premises. The art organisation was made up of a series of initiatives, actions and events held in Baku, other parts of Azerbaijan and abroad and was inaugurated with a group exhibition held in an unfinished non-residential building in a city quarter outside downtown Baku.
Despite acquiring its own gallery called Yay! Gallery in Baku’s venerable Old Town, exhibitions organised or supported by YARAT continue to pop up throughout the city including in that first alternative venue.
YARAT is planning to open the YARAT Contemporary Art Center in the Spring of 2015. The centre, housed in a multi-story building in a former Soviet navy base, will have space for a permanent art collection, an exhibition hall, an education centre and a library, among other facilities.
Between 1990 and 2000, there were several individual artists working independently or associated with creative groups like Baku Arts Centre, ARTS etc…, Labyrinth Creative Association, Yeni Musiqi, Wings of Time Association of Young Artists and the Baku Artists’ Club. However, when YARAT started to research the local art landscape at the time of their founding, they noticed that there was a limited pool of artists to work with. “I think when YARAT was founded (in 2011) there was only a handful of artists making non-conventional work and able to think outside the box. Those artists have formed the core of our team and were the moving force behind YARAT’s first shows and exhibitions […] The artists we constantly work with are Faig Ahmad, Farid Rasulov, Orkhan Huseynov, Rashad Alakbarov, Rashad Babayev, Ali Hasanova [and] Niyaz Najafov, to name just some,” Abdullayev said.
YARAT, with its focus on alternative arts, is keen to position itself as a serious organisation by building strong local and international collaborations and providing grants to artists. Aida Mahmudova told the Suitcase magazine that
We encourage artists to be experimental and not solely commercial. We’ve managed to subsidize young artists with the cost of materials and to build some studios so that artists have somewhere to exchange ideas and learn from established artists through our mentoring programme.
Under a tight schedule, artists, curators and art historians, educators and promoters from cities near and far are brought to Baku by YARAT all year round to create art or to talk about how art is made. “Almost 70 percent of our activities are now related to education. We usually have at least one to two lectures and two workshops per month; some of them are taught by senior professors from top European art schools,” she said.
Among the art professionals the organisation has lured to the city are Lisbon architect Antonio Castlebranco, Almaty-based artists Maria Vilkovskaya and Ruslan Getmanchu, Alexandr Schwartz the Managing Director in David Chipperfield Architects, John Bela the Co-founder and Director of United States-based Rebar Group and British artist and photographer Eleanor Wright.
In August 2013, YARAT started a programme called ARTIM, which means growth in Azerbaijanian. Young artists could come and show their works or just share creative ideas and visions with the hope that they might be promoted by YARAT in the future. “[The] ARTIM programme has helped to discover Ramal Kazimov, Shargiyya Rahmanova, Aqil Abdullayev, Vusal Rahim, Fidan Seyidova, Djemma Sattar and Nazrin Mammadova who are now successfully integrated into Azerbaijani and international art scene,” said Abdullayev.
Another project also started in 2013 is called Indi, which means now in Azerbaijanian. Indi is a programme of experimental performances and installations that arise through collaboration between different artistic disciplines.
The Baku Public Art Festival was started by YARAT in the Spring of 2012 and ran for half a year. The first festival 012 took its name from Baku’s area code. Twenty artists between 21 to 69 years of age were invited to create a visual reinterpretation of a Baku city setting. This kind of experience was unique not only for the audience but for the participating artists, too. “The first Baku Public Art Festival was able to raise general awareness about public art and how it can be integrated into the urban landscape. The festival has helped to demonstrate that public art is not confined to physical objects; dance, street theatre and even poetry can also be referred to as public art,” said Abdullayev.
In 2013, the second edition of the festival took the name Participate and featured ten works by ten different artists and curators, including John Bela (United States), Mark Jenkins (United States), Natalya Pastukhova (Russia), Florentijn Hoffman (Netherlands). The focus was put on transforming the public from mere viewers into participants in the creative process. “All works were meant to be interactive and had to involve the audience on both an emotional and intellectual level,” said Abdullayev.
And what does the future hold for the Festival? “We hope that our Public Art Festival will become a major annual event and will allow us to use city spaces and make people see Baku in new and memorable ways […] The least we can do is try to bridge a gap between the artistic community and the general public,” Abdullayev said.
YARAT takes part not only in the development of the local art but also in shaping how the local art scene is viewed internationally. In 2012, it collaborated with with leading auction house Christie’s to organise an exhibition of art objects held in Baku. In the same year, they supported the inclusion of a new series of documentary photographs by Azerbaijani photojournalist Ilkin Huseynov in GRID 2012 International Photography Biennale in the Netherlands. In 2013, they presented a collateral event at the Venice Biennale called “Love me, love me not”, an exhibition that included artwork by artists from Azerbaijan and neighbouring countries Iran, Turkey, Russia and Georgia. YARAT also organised “Home, sweet home”, an exhibition of Azerbaijani art that opened at Azerbaijani Cultural Center in Paris in April of the same year.
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