They say, when you have something stuck in your mind it is always better to share it with someone and so let it go! An exhibition entitled Fly to Baku: Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan that I attended on the 17th of January in Phillips de Pury was like a song I had heard once in a fragments but had been singing in my mind ever since. I am myself from Baku, thus forgive me if you find it too subjective, although I will try to minimize all sources of bias and eliminate personal elements.
In my opinion, the star of the exhibition was St Sebastian, painted by Rashad Babayev, depicting a figure silhouette with a dart board on its chest. This contemporary interpretation of the Bible subject matter, which was often used by Old Masters, amazed me for some unexplainable reason. If St Sebastian, painted by a great Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni is one of the best examples of the classical representation of this subject, then Babayev’s version, where arrows, which St Sebastian was martyred with, are replaced by darts and his body by the circular target, is a perfect model of its contemporary analysis.
I would also like to mention Last Supper and Witnesses, executed by Eliyar Alimirzoyev in 2005 and 2011. These two boards, containing actual metal buckets, represent the idea of interrelation between the artist and the viewer. The artist depicts various hand gestures at the bottom of each bucket in the Last Supper, probably representing the hands of the 12 Apostles, who Jesus dined with on His final meal before the Crucifixion, where He announced that one of the disciples will betray Him. While looking at those images, you notice that someone is missing and that is Judas and his recognizable hand gesture. In Eliyar’s work instead of Judas’ image you only see a piece of a mirror and your reflection in it.
It is commonly believed that Neil Armstrong heard the Azan on the moon. And this is what I immediately remembered when I saw sculptures by Faig Ahmed. He integrated traditional Azeri rug making into contemporary shapes. These absolutely astonishing works perfectly represent Baku at this very moment: the city is booming in terms of modern architecture, although it always keeps you warm and never lacks its ethnic origins and eastern style. Faig Ahmed’s abstract sculptures take you to the cosmos; meanwhile reminding you of culture, traditions and home.
Another wall of the exhibition displays my favorite works by Niyaz Najafov. His paintings in a style of German Expressionism never lack symbolism and satire. His ugly figures live in his paintings, they move, they work and struggle. Although, these creatures look disturbing physically, you don’t hate them, in contrast, at the end of the day they remind you of nowadays people, therefore overselves, being obsessed with shoes in his Red Shoes, trying to drop the insecurity while bringing flowers in his Roses, catching flies in his Flycatcher.
Aida Mahmudova’s installation Being 787 represents a violet room, filled with nine televisions, showing various independent scenes accompanied by philosophical quotes and a sound reminiscent of a piercing wind that is so inherent to Baku. This sound sculpture is highly sophisticated and abstract; it is meaningful, however its perception varies depending on the viewer. This can be a pregnant woman, perceiving the world in a different way, at an almost unconscious level, a child growing in a mother’s womb or an old man, left alone with his vague memories and only that wind.
Very beautiful graphic works by Leyla Aliyeva, the initiator of this very important and incredibly organized event, depicting an imaginary world of Azeri folkloric characters, which will be used as illustrations in the book of Azerbaijani fairy tales, brought some kind of sensitivity, aestheticism and tenderness to the whole exhibition; and I simply loved her Pomegranate scenes. While Altai Sadiqzadeh’s paintings and abstract sculptures, placed around the brilliant space of Phillips de Pury, brought a sense of airiness, instantaneity and rhythm to the exhibition, in my opinion, becoming the main component in the formation of the whole concept of Fly to Baku.
The exhibition will run until the 29th of January. I suggest you visit it and find out for yourself what these artists meant in their works for I have only analyzed them from my point of view and the greatest thing about art is that you always find your own self in each work.
Leyla Aliyeva. Pomegranates, 2011. Mixed media on paper; 80 × 107 cm
Rashad Babayev. St. Sebastian, 2009. Oil on canvas; 165 × 140 cm
Niyaz Najafov. The Red Shoes, 2011. Oil on canvas; 114 × 195 cm
Eliyar Alimirzoyev. Last Supper, 2005. Oil and acrylic on wood, metal buckets and mirror; 150 × 150 × 24.5 cm Witnesses, 2011.Oil and acrylic on wood, metal buckets and mirror; 150 × 150 × 24.5 cm
Faig Ahmed. Wave, 2011. Plastic and handmade woollen carpet; 206 × 230 × 83 cm
Niyaz Najafov. Flycatcher, 2011.Oil on canvas; 195 × 97 cm
Altai Sadiqzadeh. The Thinker, 2011. Iron, enamel paint; 200 × 110 × 90 cm
Aida Mahmudova. Being 787, 2011.Mixed media, 244 × 300 × 400 cm