By Nigar Orujova
A solo exhibition by Iranian artist Mahmoud Bakhshi will open in Baku on May 30.
"Talk Cloud" will be hosted by Yay Gallery, located in the historical area of Baku.
The exhibition is curated by art historian theorist Daria Kirsanova, who previously worked for several art-institutions such as Serpentine Gallery and Victoria Miro Gallery in London.
Mahmoud Bakhshi's practice deals with a visual aesthetics that developed in Iran in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
He reflects on the recent history of Iran through a recontextualisation of the official symbolism of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and uses deeper historical and traditional formal references to ground this recent history in the larger context of Iranian identity.
Talk Cloud is a cross-disciplinary project that includes lightbox sculptures, drawings, and video.
The project was exhibited earlier this year at the Niavaran Cultural Centre in Tehran and Narrative Gallery in London. The conceptual core of the project is the multifaceted and multilayered relationship between art and power-holding systems in Iran and elsewhere. This relationship has been a longstanding subject of artistic enquiry for Bakhshi.
In this new body of work, Bakhshi is looking into the very origins of the notion of so-called 'political engagement' in art. However, Bakhshi is not only interested in political power. He is equally concerned with the interaction between art and capital, another stakeholder in this rivalry for authority.
The lightbox sculptures formally recall traditional Persian calligraphy to mind, but instead of famous verses of poetry, they refer to well-known phrases that comment on the social role of art.
The quotes include expressions by the leaders of the Iranian Islamic and Russian Bolshevik revolutions - Khomeini and Lenin - alongside those by the current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and the ideologue of 'artistic engagement' and Social Realism, Anatoliy Lunacharsky, as well as Andy Warhol.
The contrast between the content of the phrases, which call attention to a social role of art, and their presentation in the shape of embellished ornament creates a conceptually charged paradox. At the same time, the diverse industrial materials used to produce the works underline Bakhshi's fascination with the brutal aesthetics and materiality of Arte Povera.
The eight-panel installation "My Land, Meridian ...° - ...°, orbit ...° - ...°", a reference to "Yasna, Hat 46" was shown for the first time in 2004. It was subsequently reworked in 2013, when an iron frame with the inscribed quote from Yasna and the exact geographical coordinates were added to each panel.
The eight panels represent eight parts of the current border of Iran and refer to the areas where important battles and significant conflicts took place throughout its history; the events that transformed the country and divided the perception of history to 'before' and 'after'.
The quote from Zarathustra, in this context, points out to another layer of meaning. It refers to the nostalgic and sentimental relationship one has with the past and one's homeland. The work puts the discussion around the social role of art into a wider, historical, and philosophical perspective.
The drawing series "Hard Copy" is an ongoing project that the artist started in 2012. These digital drawings, made by colored ink, reference familiar propaganda iconography that glorifies martyrs in the Iran-Iraq war.
Using formal alterations to trigger conceptual metamorphoses, Bakhshi transforms them into simple, childlike drawings. He takes these images out of their charged context, the detached realm of 'heroic propaganda', and turns them into schematic, nearly abstract graphic symbols.
This play with the visual iconography and ideological framework of the official Islam becomes more pronounced in the Halal sculpture. The work refers to an ongoing debate among the Iranian ruling elite about whether or not the sculpture is allowed in the Islamic society as a medium or if it should be removed from public life as 'haram' (forbidden). Bakhshi offers a witty solution by creating the first 'halal' public sculpture.
Yay Gallery, the exhibition's host, was established in September 2012 as an addition to the broader initiative conceived by YARAT Contemporary Art Organization in order to support and promote the development of Azerbaijani contemporary art both on a national and international level.
The gallery is a commercial, but not-for-profit body. All potential revenues from art sales are channeled into supporting YARAT initiatives and artists.