Azerbaijani artist Faig Ahmed explores sexuality and gender taboos in Baku society.
Running at Yarat Contemporary Art Space in Baku until 29 January 2017, “NƏ VAR, ODUR” brings into focus the recent work of Azerbaijani artist Faig Ahmed.
Faig Ahmed emerged on the global scene around 2010 with his eye-catching “rug art”. The carpet, aside from a domestic adornment, has historically been used in West and Central Asia as a kind of “newspaper” in which important information regarding events, architecture and characters of national importance are recorded and distributed. Faig Ahmed appropriates this traditional form and explores the contradictions and possibilities of both its communicative or media-like dimension as well as its role in the history of decorative arts in Asia. Previous rug works have seen carpets “dripping” down the wall like a surrealist painting or alternatively “interrupted” by some “system error”.
In “NƏ VAR, ODUR” running at YARAT until 19 January 2017, the artist adds to his rug repertoire with the new work entitled Virgin (2016) – a hand-woven carpet with a traditional pattern that gradually transforms into a thick red mass. The work draws from the traditional practice in Azerbaijan whereby unmarried girls offer one exquisite rug as part of their marriage payment. For Ahmed the carpet bears the data of the transition from girl to woman, information that Ahmed visibilises and manipulates like a kind of cultural graphic designer.
The interruption made by Ahmed – the way in which he allows the “perfect rug” to fail – should be interpreted as both an aesthetic and political move. By intervening in the very object used as a marker of a bride’s virginity and therefore cultural worth, Ahmed offers a wider critique of the economic and social systems that regulate gender and sexuality. In this sense Ahmed is less “surrealist” (despite his dripping rugs that have drawn comparisons with Salvador Dali’s paintings) than “hyper-materialist”: visibilising possible cultural “glitches” through material modifications.
Other works in the exhibition further this hyper-materialist perspective whereby the complexity of co-existing temporalities, morals, traditions, histories and materials is made tangible through creative practice. This realist philosophy is framed by the artist’s choice of exhibition title: “NƏ VAR, ODUR” is an old Azeri saying emphasising a sense of imperturbability, an attitude of accepting things how they are and have been for many years in the past. The exhibition includes seven new produced works all of which draw from research into the social habitat of Azeri people living outside the capital Baku.
They explore gender relations and social structures within traditional Azerbaijani communities and play upon symbolic gestures, rituals and objects specific to traditional Azeri communities. The exhibition has a special focus on exploring the relations between sexuality and death by addressing social taboos and the individualised traumas of abuse in different communities.
Most visibly dealing with these issues is the work Curtain In-between (2016), a series of illustrations that can only be seen by drawing back red curtains. The display technique, which draws on associations with peep shows whereby one views something prohibited or invisibilised in the public realm, seems to probe the politics of speakability and gestures towards a critique of censorship of certain topics around the body and sexuality. The work, which greets the viewer first in the exhibition, is intended to frame the whole show, which urges the viewer, according to the press release, to “literally peel off the layers of hiding before confronting taboos central to Azeri community”.
A field of sugar cones, entitled AZMAN (The Biggest) (2016), also awaits the visitor behind a set of curtains installed in the gallery space. Highly decorated sugar cones are a traditional gift from the groom’s family to newlyweds at their day of marriage, symbolising fertility. The sugar is consumed upon the birth of the first male child, one of many ceremonies and rites specific to Azeri weddings.
Ahmed accumulates the sugar cones and transforms them through scale. While playing upon their phallic form and male symbolic status he emphasises the idea of “masculine energy”. Like many of the works in the exhibition the piece gestures towards a critique of imposing dominant gender and sexual identities through social and economic structures.
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