VIENNA Focus: Azerbaijan

YARAT, a not-for-profit contemporary art organisation presents an exhibition in the framework of VIENNA Focus, which examines the rapid urban and social change in the city of Baku through the prism of one of its most impoverished districts: Sovetsky.


New works by three artists respond to the district in a variety of media. A film by Orkhan Huseynov (*1978) shows a series of vignettes of the lives of people in Sovetsky. Recreating both joyful and violent scenes from his own childhood and those of his friends and family, he exposes the ‘underbelly’ of Baku. Photographer Sanan Aleskerov (*1956) offers a glimpse into Baku’s forgotten corners through his street photography. Opening the series with a roof-top view and continuing with explorations of Sovetsky’s empty streets, his work focuses on the city’s crumbling ‘monuments’, such as telephone poles and old drinking fountains. An installation by Aida Mahmudova (*1982) brings a relic of this district to Vienna. She presents an ornate door fragment from Sovetsky, which is combined with ‘shadows’ cast on the floor in polished steel. Together they highlight the transience of this urban environment and aim to commemorate a moment in time.

Aida Mahmudova

Aida Mahmudova (b.1982) is an Azerbaijani artist and the Founding Director of YARAT, a not-for-profit contemporary art organization, based in Baku.
Her work addresses memory and nostalgia. Drawing inspiration for the landscape and architecture of Azerbaijan, Mahmudova works in installation, sculpture and painting, to capture forgotten and marginal corners of her rapidly modernising country.
The core of Mahmudova’s work involves repurposed abandoned architectural features, formed into installations, as well as paintings of empty sites on the outskirts of Baku. Seeking to commemorate a moment in time through these subjects, her works act to counter the on-going experience of transience, yet they simultaneously celebrate items which are themselves on the cusp on disappearing. As such, Mahmudova preserves the sense of ephemerality that permeates a country already layered with past civilisations.
Key to Mahmudova’s work is the tension between fiction and reality, and a fascination with memory and identity’s impermanence. To Mahmudova, identity is formed by memory, which is continually altered and ‘re-remembered’ over time. The landscapes and architectural relics externalise this sense of change and reflect underlying tensions experienced by the generation who experienced Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991.
She graduated from Central Saint Martin’s in London with a degree in Fine Art in 2006. To date, her work has been exhibited internationally, including at the MAXXI in Rome and the 55th Venice Biennale for the exhibition Love Me, Love Me Not (which later travelled to the Zaha Hadid-designed Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku) amongst others. Her work was also the subject of a solo exhibition at the Barbarian Art Gallery, Zurich.
In 2011, Aida Mahmudova founded YARAT, a not-for-profit contemporary art organisation based in Baku, Azerbaijan. YARAT is dedicated to nurturing an understanding of contemporary art in Azerbaijan, and creating a platform for Azerbaijani art both nationally and internationally. The organisation also produces a comprehensive programme of exhibitions and education. In 2012 she launched Yay Gallery, a social enterprise which shares proceeds between exhibiting artists and YARAT’s projects. Mahmudova was appointed Curatorial Director of Baku Museum of Modern Art in 2013 to oversee their exhibition program.

Sanan Aleskerov

Sanan Aleskerov (b. 1956) graduated with a degree in journalism from Azerbaijan State University in 1982. He worked with scientific, applied, press and other photography. Between 1999 and 2009, Aleskerov served as a chairman of the artistic council of the Union of Photographers of Azerbaijan. Since 1996 he has been teaching and is now working with documentary photography. His characteristic work includes projects that observe urban, social and visual changes of cities and landscapes.
Sanan Aleskerov is one of the great masters of Azerbaijani photography. For ten years he headed the Artistic Council of the Azerbaijan Association of Photographers and gained many disciples and followers. Over the past quarter of a century, he has been awarded many prestigious prizes in national and in-ternational photographic competitions and festivals. This artist was among the first contemporary Azerbaijani photographers whose works became known abroad after Azerbaijan gained its independence.
A journalism graduate from the Azerbaijan State University, Aleskerov works in the genre of documentary photography. Indicative of his work are his observational projects where he monitors the urban, social and visual changes in cities and landscapes. According to Aleskerov, what interests him is “spiritual ecology”. The ambiguity of this definition includes relationships among people, their need for spiritual purity, man’s relationship to the environment, and the life of this environment independent of human intervention – the inner world of objects, architectural structures and wildlife.
Aleskerov has said that there are photographic compositions which must be examined like an intricately woven rug: by doing so, every square inch of their surface will yield surprises, new and unexpected patterns. Such is his series of works dedicated to the city of Baku. These are photographs of various nooks of our capital city, taken throughout several decades. Their chronology shows the changes in the appearance of the city. Changes that evoke in some a feeling of nostalgia for times long gone, and in others ignite an inspiration with a view to the future.
Aleskerov’s work is held in the collection of Museum of El Salvador Velasek, Reus, Spain; Library of the Photo, Surrey, UK; The Baku Centre of Arts, Baku, Azerbaijan; and the Museum of Istiglal, Baku, Azerbaijan. It is also held in private collections in USA, Turkey, Austria, Germany, UK, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, and France.

Orkhan Huseynov

Orkhan Huseynov (b.1978) graduated from Faculty of Ceramic Design at the Azimzadeh State Art College in Baku in 1995, and from the Faculty of Ceramic Design at Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Art in 1999. He received his Master’s degree in 2000 from the Faculty of Art History and Theory at the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art in Baku. He works in the fields of installation, painting and video.
Orkhan Huseynov is an artist who is equally prolific in painting, drawing and many other media. From the outset, the focus of his work became his love of his country’s folk tradition and history. Culture, art, everyday life, monuments, and traditional games – all found reflection in his works. For example, he devoted an entire series to pre-Revolutionary Baku: the Governor’s Garden, oil fields, night-time Torgovaya street, restaurants, law firms, markets, the private lives of the city’s inhabitants. All this was wrought with elegance, taste and humour, as well as, importantly, with great historical accuracy.
Civil themes of a more serious nature also find expression in his work – the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan and its history. However, Huseynov’s works reach much more widely in geographic and temporal terms and his themes achieve universality. His conceptual work is similarly ambitious. For example, Sabir and Splash are planar objects made of Plexiglas in which monochromatic colour emphasizes the graphic qualities, while the clearly delineated lines accentuate their poster-like presence. Splash invites the viewer to meditate and to reach his own conclusion. Sabir on the other hand is a tribute to the memory of the genius Azeri poet-satirist Sabir. The drop of blood on the poet’s lips could be explained by his words spoken on this deathbed: “I laid my flesh down for my people. But if God would give me more time, I would lay my bones down too”.

Founded in 2011 by Aida Mahmudova, YARAT is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to nurturing an understanding of contemporary art in Azerbaijan and to creating a platform for Azerbaijani art, both nationally and internationally.

Based in Baku, YARAT, (which means CREATE in Azerbaijani) realises its mission through an on-going program of exhibitions, education events, and festivals. YARAT facilitates dialogue and exchange between local and international artistic networks, including foundations, galleries and museums. YARAT’s educational initiatives include lectures, workshops and the Young Artist Project ARTIM (meaning PROGRESS in Azerbaijani). ARTIM encourages the next generation of Azerbaijani creative talent by giving young practitioners the opportunity to exhibit their works in a professional context. YARAT also founded Yay Gallery in 2012, as part of its commitment to growing local art infrastructure.

YARAT’s recent projects include participating in the Marker section of Art Dubai in 2014, exhibiting at the Zaha Hadid-designed Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, producing an exhibition for the 55th Venice Biennale of Art, artist residencies at Delfina Foundation, London, and launching workshops with tutors from the Royal College of Art and University of the Arts London. Early in 2015 YARAT will launch a dedicated art centre in Baku, with a library, exhibition galleries and education space.


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