“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Aida Mahmudova and Faig Ahmed have been brought together for this show run within the Buta Festival to explore the intersecting territory on which their body of art is built. When viewing their works independently, there don’t appear to be commonalities in their concepts, either visual or theoretical. However, if you place their artworks side by side, an unframed seascape by Mahmudova and the gravitational carpet by Ahmed can radiate the same spirit, the same mood. That mood is of an explorer. Their work possesses the robust power inherent in any explorer, whether of distant lands, an astronomer investigating the universe, or a scientist searching for what lies within. There have always been those who explore inwards – for instance, miners in the earth's core, or the early twentieth-century psychologists who claimed that the deeper you investigate the unconscious, the closer you get to the truth. Looking inward will lead you to discover what lies beyond the surface. Aida Mahmudova and Faig Ahmed both explore inwards. This is what unites their work: the phenomenon of the explorer's curiosity, of one who travels in search of knowledge, who digs into the past to find a future. This constant journey present in their work brings them together, joined by the eternal question: 'What lies within?'
Aida Mahmudova's body of work is aimed at retrieving the memories of her motherland and shows the eternal richness of the modest neighbourhoods of the Absheron Peninsula in Azerbaijan, the countryside of her childhood. It depicts the intensity of a lucid dream of remembering, almost a hallucination. “My art is a constant and continued investigation of my memory, as it informs my identity”, says the artist. Her artwork resembles the landscape of the unconscious mind, demonstrating a chaotic combination of those vague images of one's past; a chronicle of memories locked away, the flashbacks that haunt us all.
A 17-metre-long unframed canvas, entitled 'On the Way Home, by the Sea', the largest artwork created by Mahmudova, depicts the Caspian Sea and its shores, as she remembers it. This monumental piece shows the artist's longing for her memory of the sea, the feelings it awoke back then while looking at it, rather than just the sea itself. The image of the sea was an integral part of her childhood, passing along its shores on her daily journey home. The Absheron Peninsula is surrounded by the waves of the Caspian Sea, and throughout history, Azerbaijani artists have always been influenced by its magical and mysterious views. These views, sometimes restless, sometimes calming, left an indelible impression on Mahmudova as a little girl. She remembers the sea as it appeared to her then, powerful and awe-inspiring in its enormity.
The vulnerability of the emotionally painted seascape, accomplished through a dreamlike soft colour scheme and expressive application of acrylic paint executed with a bold impasto, shows the sensitive and delicate nature of the artist herself. By exploring and investigating her memories, Mahmudova unveils her deepest recollections creating a work that resembles the mysterious and irrational workings of the unconscious mind. The work's overwhelming entity only emphasises that surreal and silent space, which has no angles or landmarks, just like Mahmudova's painting, which leads one to experience a sense of disorientation first and then hits you with a wave of nostalgia. Her monumental work is more than just a pictorial representation of the sea. Somehow, the process of watching this massive landscape is a mirror experiment, where one experiences looking at the reflection of one's own memories.
Working with ancient carpets, Faig Ahmed constantly uncovers their timeless symbolism, those ceaseless patterns containing deep spiritual signs and symbols that he tries to decipher. His work resembles that naïve inquisitiveness of a child that wishes to break down anything that comes its way, in order to find out what it is made of. The artist strongly believes that by decoding those messages, one will be led to uncover the essence of infinity, endlessly looking for the exit that will bring you to nothing but the inception. Just like Mahmudova, Ahmed is showing another type of cyclical journey, not the inner one but the macrocosmic, within which mankind exists.
At some point in his career, Ahmed started questioning and wondering about eternity, genetics, and the inevitability of existentialism. Aimed at breaking down and even refusing the solid canons and ancient traditions, experimenting with incorporating Azerbaijani rug making into abstract shapes, creating fusion pieces by redefining the boundaries between folk and contemporary art, Ahmed suddenly faced something irreversible, from which he has no way out. His work for the 'Exploring Inward' exhibition is dedicated to the latest research he has been doing, inspired by these considerations, holding that constant interflow with infinity.
Indeed, Ahmed's kaleidoscope of bright and conceptual rugs carries an exuberant Op Art sensibility: the structural tension and bold perspective achieved by integrating tumour shaped errors and elements of chiaroscuro drag the viewer somewhere beyond the surface. Those deflections growing within the monochrome rhythms of the carpet frames resemble the slow motion ripples of an atomic bomb, not exploding but imploding.
Many understand Ahmed's work and the processes he captures as external. However, those alienated forms and shapes that he incorporates into the rug-weaving process can be perceived from another angle, by considering them as processes of internal character. By internally growing and decoding that ancient representation of tradition, Ahmed brings it to another level, a 4-D format, just like his monumental installation 'Gravitation'. What will the carpet look like once what fundamentally belongs to it is taken away, like a mechanical device lacking a power source? A massive carpet that looks static, and yet radiates some sort of dynamism from within, has been disassembled by the artist-decipherer and resembles a silent motionless sculpture hanging in the gravitational space.
Understand 'Exploring Inward' as an experiment, just as Faig Ahmed experiments in his works; and expect it to be spacious, just like Aida Mahmudova's sea of memories, her perception of inner landscape and its connection with the outer world.
Enjoy the exclusive photographs made the night before the private viewing by a very talented photographer Nathan Browning.
Exploring Inward at Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Art, London 2014-2015, in Progress.