Altai Sadikhzade "Labyrinth - 22 HL" / 2011 / Acryl on canvas / 345cm x 310cm
Altai Sadikhzade "Labyrinth - 22 HL" / 2011 / Acryl on canvas / 345cm x 310cm

54th International Art Exhibition
la Biennale di Venezia
June-September 2011 presents
The Azerbaijan Pavilion is realized under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

distinguished artists from Azerbaijan will present their works in the Azerbaijan Pavilion, in the 54th International Art Exhibition la Biennale di Venezia, in Palazzo Benzon.

The paintings of Mikayil Abdurahmanov and Altai Sadighzadeh, the sculptures of Aidan Salakhova and Khanlar Gasimov, the multidisciplinary installations of Zeigam Azizov and Aga Ousseinov were conceived in accordance to ‘Illuminations’, the concept of the biennale and will be installed with dialectical arrangement to the abundantly decorated rooms of Palazzo Benzon. The works of these artists markedly advocate an inspiring culture of Baku, but the content and aesthetics of their work is extremely relational, intricate and complex and need to be perceived within the current common discourse of global art. Their current environmental context might be diverse, but their imaginary and hypothetical horizon, which opens to inter-cultural and inter-human relations, is common. Like many other of their generation, these artists have witnessed and experienced the political and economical transformation of the last four decades; all of them had a strong modernist inheritance, even if it was determined by Soviet ideology; and later all of them have experienced the rise of culture as symbolic capital. For all of them, Baku is the nucleus of the fire that has ignited their creativity, but they all had a desire to break through the borders of that officially programmed art and culture.

In current cultural environments in South Caucasus, Middle-East and the East Mediterranean there is a fusion of tradition, modernism, post-modernism and relational aesthetics, over and above a quest for subjectivity within the democratization processes. The works of these artists strongly reflect this fusion and subjectivity. However, this fusion and quest for subjectivity distinguishes itself from the Western model. In one perspective it strikingly embodies a 20th century rupture and unity of contradictory forms and concepts under the influence of Eurocentrism, Orientalism, Nationalism, Utopia and Chaos; in the other it includes the general reification of human relationship under the restraints of market economy. Yet, despite all these challenges the artistic praxis is pursuing globally widespread interests, effective and convincing opinions and enriching imaginary that come to existence in visual productions.

The tradition in Azerbaijan, as deep as Prehistory, is intentionally displayed in the graphic identity of the pavilion with an ornamental double-gondola, a picture inscribed onto the Gobustan rocks, southwest of Baku. The double-gondola from Baku, transported to the Grand Canale in Venice represents the universal cultural relations based on visual expression and production.

The Azerbaijan Pavilion is realized under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The exhibition is curated by curator and comissar of the Pavilion Cinghiz Farzaliev and curator Beral Madra (BM Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul) with the contributions of co-commissioner Vittorio Urbani (Nuova Icona, Venice).

The team of the Pavilion respectively consists of; Assistant Curator: Amina Melikova; Editor: Togrul Afandiyev; Coordinator: Mila Askarova; Coordinator: Suad Garayeva: Photographer & Designer: Farhad Farzaliev; and Exhibition Architect and Designer: Vincenzo Casali. The venue of the Pavilion of the Republic of Azerbaijan is Palazzo Benzon on Canale Grande (Vaporetto Station Sant’Angelo).



Catch phrases such as The End of the Nation-State and Borderless World have been in our everyday vocabulary for almost three decades. Intellectuals are convinced that these phrases mean what is really happening to the nations but the political schemes and economic systems they live in prevail according to the codes of nation state politics and economy. There are wide-ranging assertions that the nation-state is becoming archaic because it is no longer the best possible system to embrace societies that are becoming more and more heterogeneous with immigration and nation state systems cannot efficiently organize and control economic and social activity. Consequently the rationale behind nations has been hit by the fact that intercultural relations of communities and individuals, market manipulations, and the power of knowledge and vital resources cannot be simply controlled for nationalistic goals. Regions have become more important than nations in the sense that they have the possibility to influence and to profit from global politics and the global economy, so that they seem to be autonomous of the nation-states to which they belong. Furthermore, investments, industries, information and individuals have been largely guided by the communications revolution and computerized information since the 80’s towards an intertwining of the local and the global, which in turn contributes to a borderless world.

Yet, there are still debates over controversial issues: Can individuals meet all of their needs for quality in the electronic communication systems and global marketplace? How can cultural needs such as historical and geographical rootedness, traditions, creativity be a major source of well-being in these systems without the support of the nation state subvention? The elimination of nations may increase people’s freedom in regional and global interactions but may also lead to a malfunction of well-being. What are the social costs of a borderless world?
It is too simple to say that globalization has a dissolving effect on the nation state. However, it is also sensible to speak about the openness and interdependence of nations, and that states have been robbed of their historical role and capacities. The rise of supranational actors such as the European Union, regional unions and sub-national actors such as nongovernmental organizations are indicators of potential change.

Based on these ideas, the question now is – if there are still nation states- about how nationalism must be re-designed to improve the quality of life of the individual and the communities in which they live. At least, this question has been tackled by numerous post-modern theoreticians for almost half a century with particularly wide and profound effects on new concepts, forms, styles and aesthetics and for global art and culture production.

In most of the exhibitions in the Venice Biennale, the global public is tempted to look at the works of artists who are generally convened under the heading of “national pavilions”. For almost a century Venice Biennale almost confirmed Rosa Luxemburg’s account of 1909: “…capitalism does not create that intellectual spirit in the air or in the theoretical void of abstraction, but in a definite territory, a definite social environment, a definite language, within the framework of certain traditions, in a word, within definite national forms.” (*)
Consequently, by that very system a certain territory and a certain population as a cultural national entity is set apart, in which special, closer cohesion and connection of intellectual interests are focused on. Artists from different nations present paintings, sculptures, installations, photography and video which intentionally or unknowingly merge modernism, postmodernism and relational aesthetics that have evolved during the transformation of rapid and subsequently controversial national systems in their territories which in turn are rapidly consumed by the biennale audiences of different nations. Whether the artists and their works can suitably be identified under the label of a nation is one of the crucial questions of this biennale and other “nation” labelled exhibitions. These ideas and questions can also be observed at the deep levels of sensibility in contemporary art productions. To our relief, the nation and its juxtaposition with the borderless world has been the subject of analysis and criticism both by artists and curators.

The ever evolving guidelines of contemporary art dictates that artists and curators focus on cities rather than countries/nations with the obvious fact that cities offer a fertile ground for art concepts, statements and art making forms and the freedom of expression. And cities do not necessarily reflect the fixed identities of nations; on the contrary they reveal the identity, the appeal as well as the vulnerability of the nation. In today’s contemporary art milieu, cities are the fields of inspiration and production; whereas nations are the subject of critical attention in art and cultural theory, due to their prominence and
manipulative involvement in the arts and culture during the 20th century. Even if cities are at the same time considered as sources of evil, marginality, social injustice, their complexity and enigma is being glorified by means of neo-liberal strategies of extreme profit and promotion. A city with a profound historical background and modernist and post-modernist strata of transformation is approached as a fertile ground in terms of the financial value of its emerging culture industry.

Baku has a complex historical and traditional background dating back to the 1st century AD and, after a complex series of strata of different political and cultural transformations, currently is the most prosperous and expansive city east of Istanbul due to the fast growing economy of Azerbaijan where energy resources play a major role. In juxtaposition to the reality of this petroleum industry, the country has a rich agricultural region in the west. Petrol was discovered already in the 8th century, and since 1910, Azerbaijan has been supplying the world with oil. This economy has imprinted its image on the city, with the still but prolific seascape of the Caspian Sea. The well preserved historical city with its legendary Maiden Tower and the traditional daily life vitality one side and the ongoing constructions of skyscrapers of every shape, the multi-national company buildings and hotel chains on the other strongly reflect the predestined clash between tradition, modernity and post-modernity.

In this exhibition, two generations of artists with different backgrounds represent Azerbaijan but markedly advocate an inspiring culture of Baku. They have their cultural roots in Azerbaijan, their umbilical cord is always tied to their place of birth, but their work is extremely relational, intricate and complex to be mentioned under a definite national identity. All of them have witnessed and experienced the political and economical transformation of their nations in the last four decades; all of them had a strong modernist heritage, even if it was determined by Soviet ideology; and later all of them have experienced the rise of culture as symbolic capital. For all of them, Baku is the nucleus of the fire that has ignited their creativity but they all have a desire to break through the borders of a officially programmed art and culture.
Indeed four of them, Aidan Salakhova, Khanlar Qasimov, Zeigam Azizov and Aga Osseinov left Baku to work in the post-modern capitals of the 80’s and 90’s. Yet each of them had their own reasons and particular conditions that guided their choices. In their work we can discern the characteristics of art making in Moscow, New York and London.

If we make a general speculative analysis of artists who left Baku in the 80’s for Western centres, before the wall came down, we can say that they have been looking for liberation from the official art norms of Soviet-type visual culture or dominating modernist abstraction and naive–folkloric modernisms. They were pursuing a cosmopolitan, post-modernist cultural environment and therefore can be recognized as postavant- gardes of their original art milieu.

During and after the innovative explosions of the 1980s, they became culturally relativist and identitydriven in their so-called Diaspora environment. As artists who emigrated to so-called ‘Western centres’ in those years, they also became politically polemical and used the more subjective strategy of ‘putting the self in the frame’. This phenomenon of Diaspora artists was mapped in mainstream art in relation to wider socio-political and cultural developments and influenced exhibition concepts and contents in Western centres.

Currently, when the contemporary art moment is less politicized, more market oriented and aesthetically polished, the growth of racism, anti-racist, feminist and identity politics, and the theoretical ‘revolutions’ in all over the world brings these social and political problematics onto the agenda of artists who are still termed immigrants; as a result, they still deal with themes like oppression, political disturbance, identity crisis and many related themes. What has changed is that all emigrant artists are not being classified under the title “Diaspora”.

Zeigam Azizov, who lives and works in London, deals with crucial media influence on the psychology of the individual and society, and reveals potential anthropological and social transformations. He utilizes text, photography and film in very logical and clear-cut installations. The viewers’ position within these installations is intense involvement into the visual dialogue between the film, the image and the text.
For example pointing to the media “as a surveillance machine” he realized “Hard Spell: a Promise to Generations,” in Kunstraum Lakeside 2007. This work is referring to the BBC program ‘Hard Spell,’ which was broadcast in 2005 and provoked a competition of “spelling” between children. Zeigam perceived this program as a “spectacular way of training children for the emergent global economy” and a kind of control of the convictions and attitudes of young generations within this economy. He says that “In the complex ideological, economic, as well as aesthetic circumstances, such as ours, the role of the artist today is to consider what is left out, forgotten and to contemplate them and to tell another story. The point is to regain the status of art as something good to think with and once it regains its status of ‘thinking’ and ‘speaking’, it can also offer sense and the meaning, powerful communicative tools for the dialogue. What is needed now is the big picture, the clear concept, the sharp view and in short, the good story to help to figure out the “name of the game”.

Living and working in Moscow and Baku, Aidan Salakhova’s work concepts in the last two decades of Moscow art scene demonstrates a steady approach to the criticism of women’s position within the dogmas and dichotomies of stale traditions and convictions. The veil has been the leading metaphor in her recent work; in drawings, paintings, photography and now as sculpture. The veil has been a subject matter for many artists since the 90’s; mostly immigrant women artists from Islamic countries. It was used as an element to question the oppression of the women in the Islamic world in juxtaposition to the liberty in the Christian, and to reveal the divers identities, even power and eroticism behind this ‘covering’. Salakhova’s series of paintings of veiled figures and the three marble semi-abstract figures present us with a different perspective on this phenomenon. The knowledge behind her depicted form is the orthodoxy, the religion of the country she is living in. Religion in her life was not a significant matter as she grew up in an ideological system in which religion was not a political tool at all and she was a liberal daughter of an artist father.
Yet, during the age she is living in, religion has become a key element in world politics and this game is played out over the women’s body and soul. Her work addresses political, sociological, psychological and spiritual dimensions in both Islamic and Orthodox worlds through depicting the veil, a symbol of religious oppression but also a stereotype of Orientalism. She addresses Christian and Islamic societies to confront and to deconstruct the ambiguous meanings of this dark cloth. In the formulation of her statement she uses an archaic poetic visual language which relates to Islamic miniatures and Byzantine icons. The series of black veiled women is in one way highly reminiscent of The Virgin of Vladimir, the 14th century icon in the
Tretiakoff Gallery, Moscow. On the other however, they refer to the stereotypical orientalist photographs of veiled women. These exquisite figurations with smooth black surfaces on golden backgrounds have also an atmospheric eroticism created with the delicate gestures regarding matters of concealment and exposure of female sexuality.

Living and working in New York, Aga Osseinov’s work can be associated with both surrealism and futurism, and the overall impression of his abundant production sways from ‘high’ art to decorative objects. His concern with formal issues, such as scale and material is simple and unpretentious, touching the edges of playfulness but his expression of philosophical and poetic ideas are ambitious and elevating. With his inventive skills, Aga Osseinov designed futuristic floating machinery and fanciful creatures using paper, wire and papier maché instead of the classical materials of sculpture making. These remarkable sculptures were modelled and formed in a delicate style to give them a look of re-modelled world. The implications of his pieces are serious, but these pieces can also be as playful as children’s toys. They humorously affirm the role of fetishes for contemporary society. Osseinovs masks made of meshed paper imitate the ceremonial masks of indigenous rituals juxtaposing the stereotypical image production of consumerism. His work is dreamy and fantastic but at the same time addressing timely issues of consumerism and globalization. He states that these “inventions” refer to his early life in the Soviet Union, where hopes for Utopian progress abounded; however, his archaic machine vessels and ironic blueprints envision a world infected with a futile hope for progress.

Living and working in Hamden, Connecticut, Khanlar Gasimov’s work can be classified as a combination of performance, installation and sculpture. After Rosalind Krauss’ verdict that “sculpture itself had become a kind of ontological absence, the combination of exclusions, the sum of the neither/nor” and after the Minimalist’s contribution to deconstruct Modernist sculpture, this hybrid recipe has been a way out of this deadlock. Recently, Gasimov was commissioned to create a sculpture for the Azerbaijan Garden in the Cleveland Cultural Garden. Inspired by the 12th century Azerbaijani poet Ganjavi and the 14th Century Azerbaijani philosopher Imadeddin Nasimi, Gasimov has produced a bowl-shaped polished stainless steel sculpture. Weighing eight tons and reflecting its environment, this poetic works contains contradictory statements: On the outside with the reflection of the earth, it advocates for limits, containment, and the finite, and on the inside with the reflection of the sky, it represents freedom, boundlessness, and openness.
Gasimov underlines his origins as an artist of “the orient”, even if his artistic performance is strictly innovative and post-modern, by utilizing Sufi philosophy for this ecologically-correct work. His remarkable three-dimensional work, a series of silicon underwear, tackles body politics. The recent installation of recent, abundant installation of rice and paint indicates it is a performative work that invites the viewer to participate with all of his or her senses.

Painting has been and is still the most appreciated art work in Azerbaijan. In the age of the cliché question ‘Is painting dead?’ artists, curators, critics, scholars and collectors still deal with paintings. And in the age of proliferation, painting has still a distinct advantage, because of its accessibility among the various art forms, and because of its commercial viability. The virtuoso skill of the artist and the myth of the artist as a spiritual leader are still respected. Artists in the Non-western territories had various solutions throughout the 20th century when Western influences started. They experienced perspective and realism, but also drew inspiration from their traditional arts and translated miniatures, calligraphy and other abstract ways of expressions into an emblematic language of tradition and modernism. They painted epic canvases in a mixture of styles, with painterly attitudes, floating between abstraction and representation and reflecting complex spiritual themes, such as Sufi thought. Painters in Non-European countries, where art was either supported by the state or discarded as non-ideological, have discovered in abstract art their spiritual freedom. The artists who work with paintings now have to face an anachronism; however, they do not struggle to find a resolution for this anachronism but rather they want to uncover the intricacies and contradictions within this anachronism.

The exhibition presents two renowned painters who live and work in Baku: Altai Sadighzadeh and Mikayil Abdurrahmanov who resist the temptations of post-media art, but nevertheless make use of the popular images of consumption culture. Their work leads the viewer to the depths of the recent transformations of the society with aesthetic approach and subjective philosophy.

In Altai Sadigzadeh’s canvases and exquisite drawings rich and delicate prospects of abstraction mingle with miniature like scenes and fantastic images of Baku life. He merges his desire for creating a postmodern mythical reflection of the society with surrealistic images which derive their force from miniatures, caricatures, comics and illustrations. The first thing one notice about these paintings is that they convey a style with discreet, subtle colours and fine drawing and evoke a humoristic narration. Pale greys, blues and greens cover the surfaces. On top of that, there are vigorous drawings, with which recurring motifs are painted – geometric abstraction with circles, triangles, and narrations with city-scapes, see-scapes and plants. Quotations and unreadable texts accompany the images. Most of the texts refer to local and international poets and to Sufism or to Western philosophy.

His subject matter is in some way the idealised and optimised city-scape in peculiarities of its daily life and the occurrences of welfare society and on the other he is being loyal to the traditional artists’ way of mingling the visual and verbal culture.

Abstraction dominates Mikayil Abdurrahmanov’s dark blue and purple, almost sinister paintings; however, the tamed but spirited black figures appear from the depths. One can assume that these demonic black figures refer to figures of gothic comics and popular culture. The proximity of abstraction and figuration in these paintings recall Achile Bonita Oliva’s statement that “the image is engaged through a neutralisation of its strong meaning as the occasion for a representation in which the abstract and the figurative are equalized.”(**) Here is a conscious anachronism; modernist minimalism which is provided with almost
monochrome dark surfaces is merged with post-modern imagery. That is only half the point. With their obvious darkness these paintings cannot reflect a sceptical rejection and negativity alone. These dark gloomy paintings also contain social commitment and expectation. That through the abstraction they mingle chance elements and the imaginative decision of the artist is important. Abdurrahmanov shows prospects and conclusions. He indicates the most primary human sensations of loss and finding. These kinds of abstractions always reveal a visible tension between the struggle to create the final image and definite buoyancy. The experience of the artist accomplishing the tension between irresolution and order is plainly visible in these paintings.

For these artists the Venice Biennale participation is a recognition and encouragement of their work they have been doing since two-three decades. Yet, it is also simply another project for them in which they will show associations to their work, but also unpredictably take new positions and make new decisions.

Beral Madra, December 2010
Art Critic, Curator, İstanbul
*Rosa Luxemburg, The National Question, The National Question and Autonomy;
**Achile Bonito Oliva, The International Transavantguardia, Flashart, no 104, 1981, p. 36



54th International Art Exhibition
la Biennale di Venezia
The Pavilion of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the 54th International Art Exhibition
la Biennale di Venezia,
June-September 2011 presents


The Republic of Azerbaijan is participating in the 54th International Art Exhibition la Biennale di Venezia, June-September 2011 in their Pavilion, Palazzo Benzon.

The curator and comissar of the Pavilion Cinghiz Farzaliev will operate with advisory curator Beral Madra (BM Contemporary Art Center, Istanbul) and with co-commissioner Vittorio Urbani (Nuova Icona, Venice).

The exhibition in Palazzo Benzon will present two generations of artists of Azerbaijan who markedly advocate the current stimulating culture of Baku. The paintings, sculptures, installations and video they are presenting are relational to the socio-political and cultural environments they live in and they reflect intricate and complex statements and forms. All of them have witnessed and experienced the political and economical transformation of their nations in the last four decades; all of them had a strong modernist heritage determined by Soviet ideology; and all of them have experienced the rise of culture as symbolic capital. Yet, for all of them, Baku is the nucleus of the fire that has ignited their creativity and their statements, concepts and forms of art address the international audiences.

The venue of the Pavilion of the Republic of Azerbaijan is Palazzo Benzon on Canale Grande (Vaporetto Station Sant’Angelo).
The Azerbaijan Pavilion is realized under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The team of the Pavilion:
Assistant Curator: Amina Melikova
Editor: Togrul Afandiyev
Coordinator: Suad Garayeva
Coordinator: Mila Askarova
Photographer & Designer: Farhad Farzaliev
Exhibition Designer: Vincenzo Casali

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