Leading Azeri not-for-profit art organisation YARAT opened their new Contemporary Art Centre in Baku in March 2015. 

The opening of the YARAT’s first permanent space is marked by a solo exhibition by prominent Iranian artist Shirin Neshat.

YARAT Contemporary Art Centre, Baku. Photo by Fakhriyya Mammadova. Image courtesy YARAT.

YARAT Contemporary Art Centre, Baku. Photo by Fakhriyya Mammadova. Image courtesy YARAT.

The YARAT Contemporary Art Centre opened on 23 March 2015 in Baku, Azerbaijan. Overlooking the Caspian Sea, the 2000-square-metre arts hub was converted from a former Soviet-era naval headquarters.

The YARAT Contemporary Art Centre

The new Centre pledges to be a dedicated space for regional contemporary art and art education. The permanent collection highlights artists from the Caucasus, Central Asia and neighbouring countries, while a programme of temporary exhibitions features international artists. The press release also declares the new Centre as the main space for YARAT’s extensive educational programme, which features a new monthly series of talks, screenings and discussions for adults and young audiences.

The Centre’s March 2015 opening is marked by two exhibitions, namely:

Shirin Neshat’s tribute to Azerbaijan

According to The National, “The Home of My Eyes” is a tribute to Azerbaijan and its people. The show was originally conceived as an exhibition of Neshat’s older works, because the artist rarely makes new work. But upon visiting Baku, Neshat reportedly “fell in love with the place and decided to devote the whole show to the people of Azerbaijan.” The article quotes Neshat saying:

Azerbaijan and Iran are in such close proximity that being here in Baku is the closest I have been to Iran since 1996. […] It is a crossroads of so many ethnicities, languages, cultures and histories, and that story can be seen on the faces of the people when you look around. I felt that the first show to open a museum of contemporary art in Azerbaijan should be a tribute to the essence of what this country is about.

Shirin Neshat, 'Gizbasti' from The Homg of My Eyes series, 2014-2015. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New york and Brussels.

Shirin Neshat, ‘Gizbasti’ from “The Home of My Eyes” series, 2014-2015. Image courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

During her time in Azerbaijan in 2014, Neshat photographed over fifty individuals across the country, of ages ranging from two to eighty years old. The press release explains:

While making the photographs Neshat asked participants a series of questions regarding their cultural identity and their concept of home. The resulting responses are written in calligraphy that overlays the portraits. The assembled images make up a monumental installation which fills two entire walls of one of the 11-metre-high exhibition galleries of YARAT Contemporary Art Centre.

About YARAT Contemporary Art Space

Founded by Baku-born artist Aida Mahmudova in 2011, YARAT (“create” in Azerbaijani) Contemporary Art Space is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to nurturing contemporary art in Azerbaijan and to creating a national and international platform for Azerbaijani art.

Under Mahmudova’s astute leadership, YARAT quickly established itself in the international arena. Prior to the opening of its first permanent space, some of the organisation’s significant milestones include the 2012 opening of YAY Gallery, last year’s inauguration of YARAT Studios and YARAT’s pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

Aida Mahmudova, 'Untitled', 2014, wood, stainless steel, iron, 695 x 105 x 266 cm. Image courtesy the artist and YARAT.

Aida Mahmudova, ‘Untitled’, 2014, wood, stainless steel, iron, 695 x 105 x 266 cm. Image courtesy the artist and YARAT.

YARAT’s extensive and wide-reaching educational programme includes workshops for underprivileged children as well as screenings and lectures for art students. YARAT has led masterclasses and short courses with professors from institutions in Russia and the Caucasus region as well as from the University of Arts London and the Royal College of Art.

Upcoming collateral event in Venice 

In the course of a few weeks, YARAT will present a collateral event entitled “The Union of Fire and Water” at the 56th Venice Biennale, which combines site-specific video work, sculpture and installation. According to the press release, the exhibition explores the interrelation between Venice and Baku, creating a

historical and cultural superimposition of Baku and Venice as seen through the eyes of two artists, Almagul Menlibayeva and Rashad Alakbarov.

A catalogue will accompany the presentation with texts by:

  • Fuad Akhundov, writer and historian
  • Francesco Bonami, curator
  • Lala Kazimova, art historian and specialist in Oriental music and literature
  • Sara Raza, Guggenheim UBS Map Curator for the Middle East
  • Kasia Redzisz, Senior Curator at Tate Liverpool
  • Ermanno Rivetti, Assistant Editor at The Art Newspaper

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Azerbaijani artists, Iranian artistsart spaces, art educationphotography, events in Baku

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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