Nargis Magazine: Aida. An artist in space and time. Interview by Ulviyya Mahmudova


Space – YARAT, time – 10 years.


For the decade of the existence of the non-profit organization YARAT the Baku public bonded with incomprehensible modern art with all its hidden allusions and metaphors, and the artists had all the conditions for the free flight of fantasy and the ability to implement the most daring projects. YARAT holds not only exhibitions uniting Azerbaijani and foreign artists, but also master classes, including for children, various educational projects, and even large-scale M.A.P. theater festivals, which introduce Baku viewers to new names, best productions and the latest achievements of theater art. Collective film screenings, book discussions, international photo exhibitions, art yoga, concerts, inclusive dance classes... the creative team of YARAT catches the slightest opportunity to make art accessible to everyone. And high standards are set by the head of the organization, artist Aida Mahmudova. She told us about her path, the yearning for beauty and her own creative plans.


How has the perception of Azerbaijani art abroad changed in ten years? What Azerbaijani artists are interesting for in the West?

We managed to completely change the attitude of the global art community towards ourselves. This is partly due to the fact that the works of our artists are very well represented at exhibitions and biennials around the world, they are well distributed through online platforms and attract the attention of professionals. The artists themselves also began to travel more, without closing in on their region. New experiences, sensations and the constant exchange of energy greatly help the artists create works that reflect the spirit of the times. I think that we formed an image of an Azerbaijani artist of a new generation – a free-thinking, bold intellectual who knows and appreciates his roots, but at the same time perfectly able to speak about them in the language of modern technologies. Such an artist will be understood anywhere in the world. International criticism now appreciates the works created by Faik Ahmed, Rashad Alekperov, Orkhan Huseynov and other authors, precisely for this synthesis oftraditions and modernity, for identity, combined with an understanding of universal truths. This image was formed gradually, year after year. Looking back, I understand that the projects embodied by YARAT played a significant role in this.


There is a saying: "I am an artist, that's my vision". Is it always justified in art?

Only partly. The artist should certainly be interesting to himself, embody his plans and speak about what's close to him, but if your work causes absolutely no emotions for the rest, this should make you think. In my opinion, it is important to adhere to the golden middle between the desire to liked, be on the trend and absolute disregard for public opinion. You should be able not to fall under someone else's influence, following the conditions of the moment, so as not to lose yourself, but also should not completely close up inside. You must have your own voice, your style, which distinguishes you from the others, and this style should be bold and clear.


How strict of a director are you?

This question should be addressed to my team. I think they would say that I have a rather demanding, but at the same time liberal leadership style. I expect and demand a lot from my employees, because I know the potential of each of them. I gathered professionals in my team and I am sure that I can set high goals for them. At the same time, my employees know that I give them full freedom, I fully trust them. It seems to me that you can engage in creativity only in an atmosphere of freedom and joy. That's probably why YARAT's office the environment is so special and young, bright, talented people work here.

What are the main qualities you value in people?

Sincerity, kindness, and the ability to remain yourself.


What trends and styles in visual art are closer to you: impressionism, surrealism, or maybe something else?

I believe that any of us is a product of the centuries-old history of the development of art. We carry in ourselves, almost like in genetic code, everything beautiful that was created before our birth. Given the amount of visual information that we absorb today, it is difficult for me to limit my addictions to one or two directions.


You manage to lead the organization, and realize your own creative ideas, and educate your daughters... How do you organize your time?

I don't think I'll reveal any secret. The main thing is to do everything with love and without saving strength. My children are the meaning of my life, and YARAT is my other child, that is only a year younger than my eldest daughter Suraya, who is now eleven. I try not to pay attention to anyone, but in the last three or four years I have also devoted a lot of time to my own work, I try to develop as an artist. Otherwise, it is impossible to remain interesting to yourself and others.


What did motherhood teach you?

Patience. And to understand that we learn a lot from our own children. We learn some special wisdom and freshness of perception. We learn to love people as if we had never experienced disappointments, and the world around us – as if we did not know anything about its dark sides.


How unique is the process of working on each painting?

Each work is the result of many sleepless nights, endless doubts and disputes with oneself. With every new job we live something very important. When, having dealt with all everyday affairs, you finally seclude yourself in a workshop with canvas and colors, a completely special moment comes that will never happen again.


Mass culture has occupied a significant niche in the world cultural space. Unfortunately, a lot of junk, templates and stamps appeared. Sometimes the individuality and uniqueness of the artistic phenomenon is ignored. At the same time, kitsch has no value – neither aesthetic nor artistic. Is there a feeling that people are tired and desperate for beauty that will "save the world"?


Perhaps the craving for beauty and harmony is embedded in us by nature itself. No matter how avid a supporter of modern art you are, you are still frozen from admiration at the sight of Greek sculptures and paintings of Botticelli. Why? Apparently, the perfection of the lines and the harmony of the composition gives us a feeling close to religious delight. No matter how much we train our minds with complex philosophical concepts, we still admire stars, flowers or butterflies, because their beauty does not need words.


Many people, looking at the scope of your paintings, besides admiration, feel surprised: how does such a fragile girl create such monumental works? Where do you get your strength from?

According to my feelings, there are topics that require greater scale and scope, just as in music there are chamber works and pieces for large symphony orchestra. I really like to create large-scale panels and voluminous installations from unexpected materials that immediately transform the space. This is what my personal exhibitions Umwelt and Elysium looked like. Sometimes I see that the installation requires difficult and painstaking work, and then friends-artists come to the rescue, as was the case with the exhibition "Unthinkable Prospects".


What is your PASTPRESENTFUTURE exhibition about?

I can say that this was an attempt to create works that exist outside external restrictions – ideological, political, religious, and most importantly, temporary. The main thing for me was the process of creativity itself and the emotions associated with it. For the first time I tried to work with new materials for me: ceramics, copper, dry plants and herbs in combination with painting.


What affects your choice of theme for the painting?

Personal experience and emotions that I live in this segment of my life. I carry my works for many months and, naturally, everything that excites me, hurts, disturbs or, conversely, makes me happy finds a way out through them.


Your personal exhibitions always attract interest of professionals from the art world and collectors. They appreciate you as an artist. What influenced the choice of profession, except natural talent?

In order for a person to find his way, a combination of various factors is necessary. Of course, you need to listen to your inner voice, but our loved ones can also help if they notice a tendency in the child in time, support and help to realize. Then the dream can turn into fate. Of course, in order to realize yourself as an artist, it takes many years of very stubborn work on yourself.


Do you treat your own talent as a given or as a gift?

I don't think it's the right thing to think about. After all, we do not think about why we walk, breathe, speak... We just do all this, because by nature we are endowed with certain abilities. The artist's talent is another, additional way to feel life, but, in my opinion, it also imposes additional responsibility on the owner for his actions.


Tell us about your creative plans for the coming year. What are you working on now?

My plans are related to YARAT (this fall we turned 10 years old, and I hope that, growing up, we will continue to surprise you with interesting projects and new educational initiatives), as well as with my personal artistic searches. At the moment, I am preparing for my personal exhibition, which will be held in April-May 2022 at the London Gazelli Art House. I learn new techniques and materials: now I am very passionate about ceramics, working with clay gives me completely new, unfamiliar emotions. These sensations are absolutely unlike those that you experience when touching the canvas. In my opinion, clay – living, pliable matter, to which we transfer the warmth of our hands – is a prototype of all creativity, the beginning of the beginning...


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