From classical marvels to grassroots artists, Azerbaijan brings a gamut of meaningful art to the world .
Azerbaijan known as the ‘Pearl of the Caucasus’ has become a hub of inspiration for young artists across the globe. While Azerbaijani artists are showcasing their fascinating art across the world, Azerbaijan has also become a must-visit destination for artists hungry to soak-up contemporary art nuanced by symbols from the past.
Being strategically located between Turkey, Iran and Europe along with a deep-rooted political history with the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan’s galleries and museums boast a melting pot of influences from the East and West and after the dissolution of the union, the resurrection and reinterpretation of their national work have resulted in remarkable pieces of art.
Azerbaijan hosts exhibitions of modern artists from different corners of the world throughout the year. Beside exhibitions, visitors may enjoy performances of international and local theatres and musicians, free master-classes and workshops to learn various art forms native to the country.
Here is a deep-dive into the best galleries, must-not-miss art festivals, and break-through Azerbaijani artists to watch out for:
SOUL-STIRRING GALLERIES AND MUSEUMS
Heydar Aliyev Centre
Designed by the illustrious architect, Zaha Hadid, it is notably one of the most iconic landmarks in the city of Baku. Besides the building’s magnificent architecture, it houses some of the best art curations in the city. There are four massive floors dedicated to art and culture in conjunction with a full-fledged museum to add to the mix.
From traditional antiquities and rock paintings from Gobustan to the rich tapestries of the Silk-Road era, the museum hosts old-age wonders that are diverse and beguiling.
As you go higher in the building you find yourself walking through the history and transition of the nation. This post-modern monument truly takes you through the evolution of masterpieces through time.
Museum of Modern Art
Conceptualised by the first lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva, The Museum of Modern Art opened in Baku in 2009 with the mission to break the shackles of rigid frameworks and bring in freedom of speech through art. The architecture mimics that with its wide-open passages and eclectically inclined walls across the massive museum.
The avant-garde museum contains over 800 exhibits comprising of romantic figurative structures from artists like Omar Eldarov and Nadir Kasumov coupled with contemporary paintings from artists like Eldar Mamedov and Ashraf Murad
There are several unforgettable pieces from Azerbaijani masters from the 1960s and 1970s, together with classics in modern imagery from the likes of Picasso and Dali.
One exposition that is a must-see is the dedicated “unknown” art exhibit, which appeared in the country during the Soviet era. If it were not for the work of the museum, the names presented here might have been forgotten.
Azerbaijan National Art Museum
Home to classical fine arts sourced from Turkey, Iran, Japan, Chine, as well as Russian and Western European countries, the dual buildings itself are historic monuments dating back to the 19th century. Named after Rovshan Mustafayev, author of over 100 articles in law and human rights, it takes a meticulous approach in chronicling items from the 4th millennium BC to present day. Over 17 thousand artefacts can be savoured from painted ceramics, copper and bronze engraved wares, ancient carpets, jewellery, works of Azerbaijani miniature-painters of 15th -16th centuries, the lacquered miniatures of the 18th – 19th centuries, as well as paintings and sculptures of contemporary artists
Yarat! Contemporary Art Space
This oil-rich country has banked into the art scene and one of their biggest investments is the non-profit YARAT Studios, dedicated to creating a hub for contemporary art. Yarat means creation in Azerbaijani and it delivers a power packed punch of that in local talented artists that they showcase and propel across the region.
Showcasing works of several eclectic artists combined with a regular showcase of exhibitions and one-day shows, the studio has become an epicentre for artists as the cusp of glory.
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum
Carpet weaving in Azerbaijan appeared a long time ago: it is the oldest type of applied art in the region, a fact that has been proven by numerous archaeological findings from around the country.
It was a gifted carpet master, a National Artist of the Azerbaijan SSR Lyatif Kerimov, who first had the idea to make a museum dedicated to carpets. Thanks to his efforts, the first museum specializing in the study and protection of Azerbaijan’s ancient carpets was opened. Work to collect exhibits and items began in 1967, and in 1972, the first visitors could see the rare exhibits collected in the museum. The original museum fit perfectly, as the ancient carpets perfectly complemented the interior of the old Juma Mosque in the heart of Icheri Sheher.
Apart from the above, a few galleries that known for its rich collection of paintings and sculptures include QGallery, YayGallery and Natavan Gallery and Club.
REMARKABLE CULTURAL AND ART FESTIVALS
Testene Art Festival, Baku-13th-17th March
Organized by the Ministry of Culture and Baku’s Central Cultural Department, the Testene Art Festival celebrates classical music talent from across the globe. However, it is a festival that is sprinkled with some outstanding art pieces.
Bringing together visual artists from the region, it showcases the contemporary flair of the nation against traditional music showcasing the diversity that Azerbaijan offers.
Novruz Festival, Azerbaijan – 19th – 26th March
Novruz represents the change in season and its customary to celebrate nationalistic traditions during the festival. The vibe and tone of the country is celebratory and is a great time to soak in the Azerbaijani culture. It is also a great time to enjoy the art scene where you will find unique miniature arts (that Azerbaijan is also known for) scattered on the streets or candles and conscientiously painted eggs across mirrors to bring in good luck.
Nasimi Festival, Baku -27th-30th September
Unknown to most is the Sufi influence in Azerbaijan and the Nasimi festival brings that to the forefront every September by bringing singers from across the nation to celebrate their talent. It is also a lively time where Sufi art is showcased. The country has a heavy Islamic influence, despite that, the work churning out is atypically modern and garners immense debate and conversation.
Some exhibits to watch out for during the festival include Live Life, Hurufiyya and 77 Million Paintings at Heydar Aliyev Center
BREAKTHROUGH AZERBAIJANI ARTISTS
Interestingly, most of Orkhan Husneynov’s training is classical, including his bachelors in Ceramic design at Azim Azimzadeh College of Art Baku. However, a majority of his work is progressive and contemporary.
Husneynov’s early work consists of graphic sculptures of animals but he soon progressed to a series of plexiglass diptych reliefs in 2015 with sections of the Quran.
His recent expose in 2017 spotlighted the proliferation of “fake news” and traces its origins to the American political cycle and how it rose in the public mainstream. Whether the art was in the form of a misguided Facebook user or other intrusive marvels of the Internet, Huseynov’s artistic interpretation is lively and unabashed.
Husneynov’s adaptability has gained him a spot at global art festivals and galleries across Prague and Rome including the Venice Biennale twice.
From his non-conformist formative years, Ali Hasanov is known for his out-of-box thinking. Hasanov has his toes dipped in several arenas from poetry, rock music to film direction.
Hasanov pioneered performance art in Azerbaijan and represented his country at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007. You can often see his work across Baku and Ganja alongside galleries across Europe.
He is extremely active, and his latest performance art depicted the dystopian struggles of ‘Spider Man’ trying to save his own identity in a dark space to represent the Azerbaijani struggle for independence.
Faig Ahmed is known for his artistic take on traditional Azerbaijani rugs – he disassembles their conventional structure, rearranges the resulting components and then combines these fragments with contemporary sculptural forms.
The Baku-based artist is known for his hallucinogenic carpet-cum-sculptures that combine research into ancient weaving techniques and iconographic systems with more contemporary imagery — the patchworks of colour that make up digital pixels seen at close range, or the effect of a computer glitch, where abstract forms seem to melt like liquid paint or wax. Looking at them can sometimes make you feel like you’ve accidentally fallen into another dimension.
Another artist known for his versatility is Rasulov who champions the symbolism between modern and traditional in the form of installations, sculptures, photography and paintings.
Even though he graduated from Azerbaijan’s State Medical University he made a swift career shift in 2007 to focus on his art.
His signature work is his contemporary take on tapestry. His carpeted rooms have won him a spot in the Azerbaijan Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 with solo shows in France. The carpets are an ode to the culture and roots of Azerbaijan.
Born in the 1960s, Amirov is a legend that has been accoladed as the ‘Honorary Artist of Azerbaijan’.
A man of paradoxes and a known recluse, his work portrays the mundane modern life with stark realism. Find his work across the region from Marmara Gallery in Istanbul (Turkey), Russian Ministry of Culture in Moscow (Russia), Azerbaijan Ministry of Culture, Sanat Gallery, Odjag Gallery, QGallery, Azerbaijan National Fine Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art in Baku, as well as in private collections in Azerbaijan.
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