Aida Mahmudova, an Azerbaijani artist and the Founding Director of YARAT, a not-for-profit contemporary art organisation, about the art scene in Azerbaijan.
Kristina Kulakova: How has the art scene changed in the last 3 years since you founded YARAT? Aida Mahmudova: Three years ago I had just founded YARAT and we opened our first exhibition, with a group of artists, in a disused building. Since then the art scene has grown hugely; there is more awareness and participation than ever. We have a great following for our events, which include lectures, masterclasses and exhibition openings. Emerging artists have more opportunities for collaboration than ever before, thanks to our ARTIM program and the networks we’ve set up with institutions in the region and abroad.
The art scene has also changed in terms of its international perception. We noticed the change after the Venice Biennale in 2013; I think people have a better understanding what kind of art is emerging from Baku and the Caucasus.
Today, YARAT continues to expand its programs and facilities to accommodate this burgeoning scene and interest. In the autumn of 2014 YARAT opened a building with 13 artists’ studios and living spaces for artist(s)-in-residence and in 2015 they will hold a public art festival in Baku. In the spring of 2015 YARAT will also open a new centre for contemporary art in Baku, housing exhibition galleries, a permanent collection, an auditorium and an education centre.
What is most of interest in the Azerbaijani contemporary art practice at the moment? Contemporary art practice in Azerbaijan at the moment is led by a generation of artists who were born in the 1980s, and grew up just as Azerbaijan’s independence occurred – in 1991. They are fascinated by the cultural history of Azerbaijan, incorporating and questioning it in their practices. In the Soviet era people were encouraged to study traditional painting in the Academies in Russia, but now artists have a very creative response to our history. For example Orkhan Huseynov’s work at the fair captures childhood vignettes of an intriguing part of the city Sovetsky, which is on the brink of redevelopment. The work, Atelier Sovetksy, highlights the different perceptions of that part of the city, literally “tinting” them with nostalgia by making them appear hand-coloured like old-fashioned photographs. Another artist that YARAT works closely with is Farid Rasulov, whose works were featured in the Azerbaijan and YARAT pavilions at the 2013 Venice Biennale. He works with and subverts traditional forms and uses of Azerbaijani carpets.
Who are the young artists to look out for? There are so many I could mention! One would be Orkhan Huseynov, who has been gaining recognition for his video works (his work was also at Art Dubai Marker earlier in 2014). Faig Ahmed, who creates subversions of traditional Azerbaijani carpets, has had exhibitions in New York, UAE and at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where he was nominated for the Jameel Prize. Other young artists on the rise are Farkhad Farzaliyev and Nazrin Mammadova , who showed neon installations and montage photography with plexi-glass respectively at START art fair at the Saatchi Gallery in June 2014.
How is collecting in Azerbaijan different from the European tradition of collecting? Azerbaijani collectors are fascinated by the work from our region; many cultures and different societies have lived in this part of the world over the last few millennia, so people are drawn to understanding local history. However there is increased awareness of international art and more and more collectors are interested in this sector; they travel internationally and are a sophisticated audience, attending ever more shows. All this is creating great opportunities for emerging artists in Baku who are part of a burgeoning market.
What are the advantages of being an artist in Baku? At the moment, being an artist in Baku you are part of an energetic community. A number of galleries and museums have been opening, such as the new carpet museum and the Heyday Aliyev Center. The general public is more interested than ever in what contemporary artists are creating. Our artists are also beginning to be understood internationally, so we have increasing opportunities to exhibit around the world – Farid Rasulov recently had an exhibition in Paris for example.
Where should one go in Baku in order to get to know contemporary culture of Azerbaijan – In what museums can one find contemporary Azerbaijani art? In which collections? The best museums and art galleries in Baku are: the Heydar Aliyev Centre, which is a magnificent building designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the recently reopened Carpet Museum which is designed by Austrian architect Franz Yantis and YAY Gallery which shows international and Azerbaijani artists. We will be opening a new space as well, 2,000 sq m. in size and offering a program of international exhibitions and education programmes. It will have exhibition halls, an auditorium, an education centre and a programme of international exhibitions led by our Curatorial Director Suad Garayeva.