YARAT! presents Azerbaijan and its neighbours’ contemporary art at Venice Biennale

24 May 2013 15:23 (UTC+04:00)

By Sabina Idayatova

Yarat! Contemporary Art Space will take part at the Venice Biennale with the exhibition "Love Me, Love Me Not".

Love Me, Love Me Not is an unprecedented exhibition of contemporary art from Azerbaijan and its neighbours, featuring recent work by 17 artists from Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, Russia, and Georgia. The exhibition produced and supported by a not-for-profit contemporary art organization YARAT based in Baku and curated by Dina Nasser-Khadivi, will be opened to the public from June 1 until November 24, 2013 at Tesa 111, Arsenale Nord, at the 55th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia.

"There is currently equal curiosity and misconception about Azerbaijan and the countries surrounding it," curator Nasser-Khadivi explained. "The works on show will provide insight into the dynamics of each nation, bringing to light forgotten aspects of history and demonstrating the breadth of vision and creativity at play within their borders."

The exhibition offers a diverse range of media and subject matter, with video, installation and painting all on show. Pieces range from those steeped in historical reference, to those with more site-specific responses through to those which are inspired by personal history.

By bringing artists from Azerbaijan and its surrounding region together in one exhibition, Love Me, Love Me Not will create new perspectives on the contemporary art of Azerbaijan, as well as that of Iran, Turkey, Russia and Georgia.

The featured artists are Aida Mahmudova, Faig Ahmed, Rashad Alakbarov, Ali Hasanov, Orkhan Huseynov, Sitara Ibrahimova, Farid Rasulov, Rashad Babayev from Azerbaijan, Afruz Amighi, Kutlug, Shoja Azari, Mahmoud Bakhshi, Ali Banisadr, Farhad Moshiri from Iran, Taus Makhacheva -Russia, Slavs and Tatars -"Eurasia", Iliko Zautashvili -Georgia, Ataman-Turkey.

Faig Ahmed takes the motifs found in Azerbaijani carpets as a starting point for his work, reinterpreting these to underline the rapid shift Azerbaijan is experiencing towards modernity. His thread installation Untitled (2012) deconstructs the notions of craft inherent to the traditional process of weaving, extending the usual two-dimensional plane of the finished carpet across a three-dimensional space.

Kutlug Ataman's video installation Mesopotamian Dramaturgies / Column (2009) is inspired by the Trajan Column in Rome and was originally commissioned for the MAXXI (National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome). A tower of 42 used TV screens each feature the silent face a villager from Erzincan in Eastern Turkey, Ataman's place of origin. This key work is both an attempt to show a story without narration as well as a tribute to the history of Anatolian people, who he sees as silenced throughout history.

In his most ambitious project to date, Shoja Azari will show a specially commissioned film which recreates the Haft Paykar, the romantic epic of the 12th century by Nizami of Ganja. Haft Paykar or Seven Beauties is an allegorical romance, which takes self-knowledge as the essential path to human enlightenment as its central theme.

Ali Banisadr will be producing his largest work to date for the exhibition, in the form of a triptych inspired by the pervasive symbolism of fire and light. These elements, prevalent in both Azerbaijan and Iran, relate to the origins of Zoroastrianism as well as the etymology of "Azerbaijan," which derives from the Persian name for "Guardians of Fire". Through effective use of colour and painterly control, Banisadr translates the imagery of his childhood, his extensive understanding of art history, and his sharp observations of everyday life onto canvas, capturing insightful details of humanity with movement, energy, and abstraction. Banisadr's works are housed in public collections worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Saatchi Gallery and the British Museum in London.

Ali Hasanov, from Azerbaijan, uses a contemporary appropriation of everyday materials. His work Masters (2012) features hundreds of "veniki" (brooms made of bundled twig and common in post-Soviet countries) which are bound together to form a sculptural whole.

Taus Makhacheva, will re-produce a film, recently shown at the Liverpool Biennale about an abandoned silk-road city Gamsutl (2012) through a young male protagonist who "dances" to enact the fragmented qualities of the half forgotten city.

Slavs & Tatars' installation entitled Molla Nasreddin-The Antimodernist (2011) is a life-size sculpture as a playground "ride" for adults and children alike and refers to the popular Sufi philosopher of the 13th century. By creating works that can directly involve public, the collective addresses notions such as generosity and participation through the disarming use of humour.

Molla Nasreddin also refers to the legendary Azerbaijani satirical periodical of the early 20th century, which not only contributed to a crucial understanding of national identity, but offered a momentous example of the powers of the press. In their installation Love Me, Love Me Not, the collaborative pluck the petals off the past to reveal an impossibly thorny stem: entire metropolises are caught like children in the spiteful back and forth of a custody battle, representing the evolution of the region over time - a theme which is at the core of this exhibition.

The exhibition is sponsored by Gilan and Jale.Technical support is provided by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Edited by curator Dina Nasser-Khadivi and Farah Rahim Ismail, contributors to catalogue include:

• Nada Raza, Assistant Curator at Tate Modern

• Nicholas Cullinan, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Metropolitan Museum of Art

• Negar Azimi, writer and Senior Editor of Bidoun Projects

• Monica Steinberg, PhD Candidate, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

• Suad Garayeva, writer and curator specializing in Contemporary Art from Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

• Slavs and Tatars, a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia. The collective's work spans several media, disciplines, and a broad spectrum of cultural registers (high and low) focusing on an oft-forgotten sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians and Central Asians.

YARAT Contemporary Art Space, founded in 2011 by Aida Mahmudova, is a not-for-profit organization 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! realizes its mission through an ongoing program of exhibitions, education events, and festivals. It facilitates dialogue and exchange between local and international artistic networks, including foundations, galleries and museums.