Contemporary art of Azerbaijan by a curator Farah Alekberli


Curator Farakh Alekberli has been working in the sphere of art for more than 10 years. Nowadays she oversees exhibitions of Azerbaijani and foreign artists at the contemporary art center “YARAT”. We spoke to Farakh about the development of modern art in the country and what Azerbaijani artists deserve to be looked at first and foremost.

Azerbaijan’s contemporary art represents a combination of qualities from totally different cultures and subcultures. We, as a country, are located between the West and the East. That is why Azerbaijan’s contemporary art embodies both Western traditions and adherence to our Eastern roots.

At the same time, the history of Azerbaijan’s contemporary art does not fully correlate with the history of Europe or Russia. This development took a different path. The first attempts to deviate from canonical and traditional arts here were undertaken in the late 1980s and 1990s. But those were individual and distinctive flashes – amid a dark and difficult period for the country and the region.

The next wave of new stars working in the sphere of contemporary art erupted in the 2000s. Not many years have passed since then, but a lot of things have changed. Art has become more conceptually sensible, more messages and backgrounds have appeared in it. Many new directions, experimenters, implementation of new technologies have appeared as well.

Today artists create their works as political statements. They speak about globalization, urbanization, ecological problems, social and gender issues. The scope of their interests is very wide. And, of course, matters of traditions, canons and self-identity are visible in the works of our artists. I would name Faig Ahmed as the example. He is one of the country’s first contemporary artists, who became globally renowned, holds exhibitions in different parts of the planet and cooperates with many different galleries. If you look at his works, you’d see that they surely make references to traditional art. Faig combines traditions and modernity, while talking about both in a very metaphorical form. He works with a national carpet, but deforms it and breaks its structure. And his works are clearly not about a carpet itself. They are about the things happening around us - about the changing society, changing people’s values and transformation of culture.

We are living in the times when artists realized that they can reflect everything happening around us. They talk about the issues which concern everyone. Essentially, the functions of an artist have changed now. There was a period of time when artists had to show everything that was beautiful. Today they are reevaluating this approach. And I would say, fundamentally, that they are fulfilling their primary mission.

Six contemporary artists of Azerbaijan, whose works should be seen by everyone

Orkhan Huseynov

This second-generation artist (he is the son of renowned artist Arif Huseynov) delves into Azerbaijan’s mythology in his installations, art and video art. Orkhan combines respect for his roots with an ironic view of traditional things. That is how he finds motifs of the past which are relevant for the 21st century.

Faig Ahmed

One of the country’s most well-known artists works with one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent symbols – a carpet. Faig literally reshapes it, showing “the insides” of traditions and translates a carpet’s “code” into the modern international language. That is why Faig’s carpets can be seen in galleries worldwide – from Tokyo to Istanbul.

Farkhad Farzaliev

This interdisciplinary artist has quite a vivid background: Farkhad used to be a popular DJ in Baku, graffiti artist and leader of the Azeriff music band. Today he creates installations, video and sound art, mixing genres and techniques. Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage looks surprising and relevant in his works

Agil Abdullayev

Agil Abdullayev focuses on looking at oneself. He studies the artist who was born in the 1990s, was educated in Europe, came back to the homeland and lives in a digital world. In his works, he researches the contrast between the cultures of the East and the West, connecting them through utopia and futurism.

Vusal Rahim

Stage designer in a theater and contemporary artist, who experiments in a wide spectrum of directions – from performances to video art. In his works, Vusal touches upon major social issues of our time, but talks about it using images of ancient cults, shamanism and national rites.

Aida Mahmudova

One of the most influential women in the art sphere of the Caucasus region. Aida focuses on researching materials as means of experimentation and studying the world we are living in. Her works consist of many layers and materials – paper, clay, paint, cement, rock, resin.

Where can one see the works of contemporary artists

If we talk about contemporary art, then, unfortunately, its geography is quite narrow and circles around Baku – not penetrating into other parts of the country. There is the “YARAT” center of contemporary art in Baku. This is the largest institution of its kind in the country, which works with contemporary art and follows all the processes happening in this sphere. “YARAT” supports artists, produces their exhibitions, takes them abroad and provides them with residencies. Besides, the center runs a vast number of educational programs. Apart from “YARAT”, there is also the Museum of Contemporary Art, where works of both domestic and foreign artists can be seen on display. Despite bearing the name “Museum of Contemporary Art”, I would rather call it a “museum of modernism art”. The Heydar Aliyev Center is also worth a mention – it holds major exhibitions of contemporary artists. And then there are also numerous small galleries, which are like blips on a map – they open and close all the time.

Photo: archives of artists and YARAT, Baku magazine, ChaiKhana, Nargis magazine