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Internal Peace

June 9 — July 13, 2013 

Barbarian Art Gallery

Zurich, Switzerland

September 21 — October 20, 2013

Kichik Qalart Gallery

Baku, Azerbaijan


About the project

Memory and Nostalgia

The Barbarian Art Gallery as well as the curator of the show Sandra Nedvetskaia are proud to present a solo show by the young Azerbaijani artist Aida Mahmudova. Under the title Internal Peace, the artist presents for the first time in Switzerland her impressive narrative work, which is inspired by Azerbaijani history in relation to the artist’s personal experience and identity, illustrating her considerations in the fields of memory and nostalgia.


Aida Mahmudova’s artwork delves into the emotive facets of ‘longing’ – specifically, the longing for the memory of a place, rather than for the place itself. Simultaneously, the artist meditates on how memory is tied to the debris of the past. Her paintings and accumulations present history as a collection of mementos, which appear fragmented and partial, and are accessible only through the mediation of personal perceptions and emotional responses. By focusing on an individual perspective within a larger, historical narration, the compositions redress how history is perceived and memory evolves. The situations Mahmudova depicts are retrieved scenes, eyewitness of places and situations, which have undergone drastic change. Through her work the artist invites the viewers to participate in

the experience of remembering.


Aida’s paintings are composed of muted hues. The depicted scenes are shrouded in a hazy mist, which combines real and reminiscent sites from old Baku and the Absheron Peninsula. The accumulations are built from fragments of half-remembered moments of the past era.


Through her installations the artist attempts to capture what cannot be completely recalled. She presents a visual and experiential meditation on the spatial and temporal labyrinth of time and captures the essence of a ‘diaspora of memory’. This retrospection is locally based in Aida’s native Azerbaijan, nonetheless it unfolds further recollections related with the artist’s experience in foreign lands. The result is the expression of a sense of longing for a memory that has been evolved and layered over time.


In an era of rampant technological and urban development, as well as mass globalization and migration, Mahmudova aims to illustrate how nostalgia can no longer refer to a specific geographical location or to a specific context and how it embraces reminiscent sensations, sensual perceptions, smells, sounds, which appear like debris of a past life.


Alessandra Ruggieri De Micheli (Zurich)



Internal Peace in a moving exterior Artist’s statement


Memory is the material of my work. Our sense of identity and personal development is stitched together from the events that we participate in and how we choose to reflect upon those experiences. I think that it is important for every person to contemplate his or her sense of self. Reflecting on and questioning one’s memories and how those memories form our identity is one of life’s greatest challenges. It is often more comfortable to avoid questioning how one’s experiences inform their identity. However, this is something I do, always.


In order to understand myself I try to go back. But going back is never easy. Even the happiest memories often manifest with a sense of sadness, loss, and loneliness. This results in memories of a beautiful past, and an awareness of an unstable present and unknown future. Such reflections allow one to reveal, examine, and work through many questions regarding the ‘self’.


We are surrounded by our memories, both inside and outside. Some memories are blurry and their details remain veiled with a degree of uncertainty; yet, even those memories that are most clear maintain an ambiguous quality. Remembering is recreating the past. Sometimes our memories are a trick of our subconscious. These distorted recollections take an altered shape and call forth recollections of fictional or mysterious characters. Every time we look back, we discover something different, presuming that we have simply remembered more. But it’s not more; it’s new. Our mind allows for intrusions in different shapes and forms to participate in our remembered past. Our memories change and our subconscious mind adapts them to our present situation, allowing us to better relate to and understand our present reality.


Once we acknowledge these re-surfaced fragments of memory, we intuitively apply them to our everyday life, which eventually becomes our past. Thus, a circle is created. Intuition leads us in a particular direction and guides us down a path that is informed by constructed memories. Intuition is a message from the subconscious — the heart of our identity.


My art is a constant and continued investigation of my memory, as it informs my identity. The touchstone of this search and the main source of my inspiration are the forgotten, un-touched, and un-developed locations in Azerbaijan. Our physical world is shifting at a pace so rapid that our memories are frequently blurred, and our ‘remembered’ past is often forgotten or altered by our subconscious. This confuses our identity. These un-modernized locales function as a ‘missing link’. They are a fulcrum that connects the actual past with the remembered past. They are the fabric of my identity — the fiction and the reality, the memory and the present moment, the subconscious and the conscious. Physically experiencing the concrete reality of these sites allows me to re-experience and re-visit the places of my past. These encounters help me to re-capture the past within the present moment. The tangible relics of Azerbaijan’s past are timeless and transient, universal and specific, and they are the fabric I use to give material form to the intangible memories that inform my present identity and my art.


Aida Mahmudova




It has been known from ancient times that the external world is a reflection of the world of Man. Discoveries in modern physics over recent decades have confirmed this truth. What we observe around us, such as processes in society, both anthropogenic urbanistic landscapes and the fast-changing appearance of modern cities are a projection of the collective human consciousness (and unconsciousness…). Each person from birth is thrown into a society that is a medium of constant change. Considering that these changes in our times are happening at unimagined speeds, then a person is left with no other choice than to conform to these changes, but unfortunately at the cost of forfeiting a state of inner peace. After all, this state is a point of real self-identification of the person as a unique being who is different from anyone else in the world. Abandoning this point leads to a false, restless life where the world becomes impersonal and shut-off, and a person is transformed into statistical average value designated by M. Heidegger as das Man. According to the same philosopher the pace of the external world destroys the personality where, “Jeder ist der andere und keiner er selbst” – “Everyone is the Other and no one himself”.


What is to be done in such a situation?

To preserve, save oneself. Every thinking modern artist will seek and find his own strategies for auto transformation, the origins of which can be established from the ancient practices of “care for the self” based on the equally ancient precept of the Delphic oracle: “Know thyself” …


Artist Aida Mahmudova in her work found an original approach: taking as a basis self-enquiry on the theme of memory, recollections and time, she works with the same unique material that in the world of professional cinematographers is called “vanishing scenery”, using desolate locations in Baku and on the Absheron peninsula, as yet untouched by the building boom, but doomed to gradual extinction as time relentlessly erases the memory of the past... Old house and streets, dilapidated buildings, half-collapsed walls with peeling plaster, sparse litter-strewn shrubbery, broken asphalt, rusty iron constructions, crumbling pavement, ruins of the “post-Soviet spring”.... Not so appealing? That's right! Just like an unpleasant ache, spiritual trauma, stress and any suffering. But would we actually realise we possess a certain organ, for example, a heart if it did not give us pain and anxiety? No way! Only heartache indicates to us the presence of a heart. Only fire, having burnt and charred the timber reveals its inner fibrous structure. Only in this way can we recognise the world – through trauma, pain, cracks, fissures, forcing us to turn our attention to our inner selves, to the depths of our memory and consciousness. When everything is fine and nothing troubles the soul, a person forgets himself and becomes das Man, unthinkingly gliding along smoothly and alienated from his life…


When contemplating desolate urban landscapes, such historical beacons of the past, it is possible to see how time slows down in such places and stands totally still. Against a background of rapid architectural changes sparked by the building boom in Azerbaijan, these “poor”, ascetic zones stand before us as spiritually precious oases of previous hard times. Still more, for Mahmudova this means nostalgic childhood memories, a return to a time of carefree idleness, spiritual warmth and naive exposure to the world – qualities that today are “irrelevant”. Nostalgia is accentuated all the more by the fact that A. Mahmudova for a long period in her life (studying in Great Britain and the USA) was forced to live a long way from her homeland… The artist using photographs of locations that interest her as reference material, reconstructs their fragile aura in pictorial art, that is not a literal reflection but are subtle visual associations. The colour scheme of the canvases is restrained, subdued pastel colours precisely matching the most unspectacular subject matter. The artist employs materials using a mixed technique – oil, acrylic, special textural paints and emulsion that A. Mahmudova uses as a plastic, textured material to create bulk structures as well as using trashy elements which impart a special, touching charm similar to the craquelure and flaking on the surface of paintings by old masters. Besides two-dimensional canvases the artist also constructs three-dimensional objects from the same canvases and uniform weight of colour… Canvases are not painted at a stroke, they, as it were, mature gradually without hustle and haste, layer after layer, like living organisms in a process of organic development. Thus, the author “moulds” the spaces of her pictures and enacts the mysteries artistic movement that is contrary to what time accomplishes, gradually destroying these places. It is as though A. Mahmudova by her artistic gesture. deprives time of the right to dispose of any of her places and confidently plucks these childlike defenseless spaces from cruel fate's treacherous claws and returns to them their eternal nature that is already within her own living memory. This means that the spirit of these landscapes never dies but finds a timeless refuge in the meditative pictures of the artist. Thereby, in performing this creative act she, as an artist, experiencing the process of constant self-enquiry, is returning to herself, to that very point of inner peace that unites the worldly life of each person with the dimension of eternity…


Teymur Daimi (Baku)

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