Azerbaijan contemporary fine art of the end of II and beginning of III millennium


The Origins.


Modern culture of each country certainly feeding on invisible spiritual emanations of historical past of the nation inhabiting that country. In other words, it is branch of the Tree which in some cases rooted in unconceivable times of mankind cradle. Therefore, talking about modern art of Azerbaijan it is impossible to shelve those cultural and historic realities on which consciously or unconsciously art of following periods is based, including actual artistic practice of the present. 


 Azerbaijan is the country of ancient culture. Heretofore, lots of Azerbaijani artists in their creative work get the inspiration from ethnogenetic memory, appealing to "primitive" and mysterious art of pristine creators that was reflected in rock drawings of Gobustan (area not far from Baku), which is in its turn historically can be traced back to the Mesolithic epoch. Mysterious megalithic art of Gobustan along with ancient stone plasticity and samples of archaic primeval and Zoroastrian architecture remained by a miracle, are inexhaustible energetic source for all Azerbaijani art. Azerbaijani art right up to time of joining of the Azerbaijan to Russia (XVIII c.) was developing similar to visual culture of most Muslim regions, in steady format of decorative art: carpet weaving, miniature and different branches of folk crafts. I think I am not mistaken if I would say that primeval art of Gobustan, carpet art and miniature painting (its blossom fell at XVI c.) in the aggregate appeared to be mighty cross-linking energetic basis on which Azerbaijani visual art of XX century has formed.


Also it is impossible not to admit complicated synthetic nature of Azerbaijani culture consisted of controversial vectors of Zoroastric, Turkic, Christian and Islamic sacral layers and traditions. If perception of modern artist is "integrated" (mainly) into western secular cultural context, then his unconsciousness is open towards "prosperous complexity" of various, sometimes mutually exclusive religious and cultural traditions, which have intersected in the Azerbaijani land and were firmly united by historical period into syncretic spiritual reality that determines mentality of Azerbaijani people. All above-mentioned is important ethnogenetic and socio-psychological factors causing nature of creative cooperation of modern artist with environment and the present generally. 



Deideoligizing: from official to non-conformist.


After formation of Soviet Union on all its territory there was gradually prevailed common mental-ideological regime, permeating almost all cells of social and cultural life of the society and artificially separated soviet culture from context of world actual culture. Therefore modern art of former republics of Soviet Union and independent states nowadays because of a number of historical and socio-political reasons significantly differs from modern art of world developed countries. It is happened so because of above-mentioned purposeful ideology of all spheres of community work and, in first turn, culture which as a consequence of "spiritual sterilization" came to hermetic, closed nature ("iron curtain" factor). 

In Soviet period of Azerbaijani visual art, right up to Gorbachev's perestroika in 1985, social realism appeared to be predominant style and "neutral" non-committal landscape, portrait and still-life genres. There was circle of "standing" themes - themes of "socialistic" labor (oil industry workers, cotton-growers, repairmen, etc), sports, leisure and number of another ones - overstepping frames of which was neither forbidden not recommended. Those artists who tried to solve other formal and stylistic problems, different from soviet cultural and ideological propaganda, were excluded from existent context of official art. In spite of their talent and creative courage, they were outsiders of actual artistic process and their works were presented on the "legitimate" exhibitions quite seldom. Thus, along with officially avowed artists whose creative strategy accurately blended into the system of requirements of the dominant style or at least was not contrary to it (Tahir Salakhov, Mikayil Abdullayev, Togrul Narimanbekov, Nadir Kasumov, Nadir Abdurakhmanov, Omar Eldarov, etc), by the early 70's, insensibly for the broad audience, few in number but bright layer of creative persons - innovators breaking inert artistic mentality stereotypes has appeared. They were not open political dissidents, but aesthetic problems of formal and stylistic they were facing with, brought them out on the level of ideological confrontation with existing regime. Therefore, it can be said that the whole cohort of non-conformist artists who were actively working in the seventies and eighties (Javad Mirjavadov, Kamal Akhmedov, Rasim Babayev, Muslim Abbasov, Mirnadir Zeynalov, Geyur Yunus, Nazim Rahmanov, Gorkhmaz Efendiyev, etc. could be referred to those ones in the first place) prepared hidden "upheaval" in Azerbaijani art which came after 1985, during the agony of communistic regime. 


It should be admitted that above-mentioned artists were not organized into any creative group or creative association drawn by the common creative platform or manifesto. They were bright individualists and each of them was setting out his own different from others model of artistic existence. But at the same time they were unified by pronounced mythological mentality, sharp, almost "Aesopian" symbolicalness of visual language, intensive usage of archaic, folk-national style (not without oriental refinement despite of the primitivism), and, finally, merely formal feature - search and solving of artistic problems was taking place in the frames of traditional painting, i.e. on the two-dimensional canvas platitude. 


One of the most charismatic and remarkable creative personality of reviewed period was probably Javad Mirjavadov who directly or marginally influenced many artists not only of his generation but next ones also. After careful learning (during six years spent in Leningrad) of western avant-garde painting of XX century and ethnographic art of Africa, Oceania, Indonesia and the Middle East he accomplished paradoxical artistic synthesis of those cultures, found cardinal common grounds of studied material with most ancient layers of Azerbaijani visual practice; artist himself mentioned in his declaration: "I was born on the land of Absheron, but with the help of my creative work I could rose meeting point for winds from Gulfstream and Pacific Ocean, Eskimo land and African continent". Appealing to traditional Azerbaijani myths, legends and tales, archaic by definition, allowed him maximally simplify the style, reducing it almost to the childish primitivism peculiar to mentality of archaic, sacral communities. But that simplifying of the language just intensifies inner dynamics of the canvases, sharpening increased expression of the characters bringing them to the grotesque and common compositional key up to phantasmagoric grandeur. 

Rasim Babayev, Kamal Akhmedov, Muslim Abasov and some other artists of that generation were solving their creative problems in almost similar artistic and plastic key but in totally different conceptual and thematic course. Their artistic style was drifting from figurative post-impressionism and primitivism up to abstract expressionism, sometimes rising up to pure "musical" abstraction, as, for instance, in compositions of Mir-nadir Zeynalov, who is often resorting to plentiful collage and texture disseminations into the canvas surface, such as paper, cardboard, sand, sacking, rags, wood pieces, etc. (It should be mentioned that monograph written by art critic Dilara Vagabova is fully devoted to detailed analysis of the creative work of this artistic generation: D.Vagabova. "Another art". Baku - 1993, 116p). 



Transiency of the "Golden Age"


If in Soviet, pre-Gorbachev epoch visual art could be easily divided into official and informal (non-conformist), then since 1985, after onset of Gorbachev's perestroika, binary opposition of official/informal issues started to loose its topicality. Excluding inertial tendencies, when most of the art workers of older generation continue working in former style (which does not satisfy time requirements anymore), artists of new generations determine to radical changes of inertness and conservatism in the art, choosing risky and insecure experiments path. 


Period 1885-1990 might be with full authority called "Golden Age" in the visual art of all republics of Soviet Union, including Azerbaijan. Collapse of communist ideology, demolition of "iron curtain", and rash wind of expected democratic freedom has opened enormous opportunities for creative self-realization. Then it was impossible to imagine future perspectives, which crosses and asperities Azerbaijani people will have to surmount on the way to freedom and independency. Dreadful war, numerous victims, occupying by neighboring Armenia of twenty percent of Azerbaijani territory, about million refugees doomed to languish in poverty in tents in the open air - all that was yet in come, in near, but unknown future. And in the present it was only clear idea - it was really rapid optimistic period of historic changes, passionate splash, when lots of young energetic artists suddenly realized that their hour has come to appear on the proscenium of art history. 


One of the main advantages of the reviewed period was flow of information about world art events unavailable before. In Moscow, the capital of living its last days Soviet state, there were lots of exhibitions conducted presenting works of such world famous artists as R.Raushberg, F.Bacon, Gilbert and George, J,Tingeli, G,Uker, etc. These exhibitions noticeably influenced artistic life of both capital and union republics, especially artists of new generation.


In 1988 significant event took place in the capital of Azerbaijan - Baku Art Center (BAC) was established for unification of young artists, architects, musicians, cinematographers, etc. Since the same year, Center was organizing exhibitions abroad and there was laid the foundation for conducting local and international symposiums. There is a curious and symptomatic detail: by initiative of art workers, street where BCA gallery was located (that gallery is used mainly for non-figurative art exhibitions) was renamed into the "Arts Street"; revolutionary step is not it? Artists, inspired by the "winds" of opportunities unknown before go out of doors, daring to the direct contact with the spectators: following Monmartr experience they expose and sell their works in the open air, in Icheri Shahar - The Old City, very center of the Baku which always attracts tourists' attention. Later Artists have changed their "dislocation" by settling on one of the central streets of the Baku which is still one of the sightseeing places of the city. But it should be mentioned for justice that nowadays permanent exposition in the open air pursues only commercial objectives, altruistic enthusiasm of late 80's disappeared without a trace… 


Turning back to the "Golden Age", it should be mentioned that "new wave" artists discovered for themselves avant-garde culture and step-by-step underwent all art history of XX century: cubism, futurism, fauvism, surrealism, abstractionism, pop-art, conceptualism, poor art, etc., including most actual tendencies. All those trends were rapidly and creatively remade, modified and integrated by many artists into substance of their own art, being organically combined with individual stylistic techniques and personal ideology. It is reasonable that each one is trying to adapt most appropriate artistic trend to his creative work.


There is a remarkable fact that some artists (Chingiz Babayev, Amirbek Narimanbekov, Teimur Daimi, Azer Jafarli and some others) along with intensive searching in traditional art kinds as painting, graphics and sculpture, were trying to go out of those limits by starting experiments in sphere of conceptual art: assemblage, installation, performance and artistic action, using in their works sound effects and text fragments. Working with three-dimensional space, using of new texture materials and new visual language unknown for mass mentality, were broadening spectrum of optical possibilities and provoking totally different type of communicational interaction between artist, work and spectator. 


In the same years some artists are gathering in the groups, coordinate their efforts in the frames of the common platform for increasing modern art impact on mass mentality. Thus, in 1989 one of the first informal artistic groups "Tasdig" appeared on the "scene" of Azerbaijani modern art (Samir Kafarov, Teimur Daimi, Amirbek Narimanbekov, Elmar Amiragov). It should be necessarily mentioned that group existed for a short time (just for two and half years - since 1989 to 1991) and split not because of internal crisis or ideological discrepancies but through realizing their uselessness and being out of social demand: creative activity of the group unfortunately fell at the most unlucky for Azerbaijan period, when attention of the community was fully focused on the socio-political problems. But even in frames of such a short time group participants have prepared program manifesto, issued group bulletin with main theoretical texts, and organize three exhibitions which altogether influenced certain artistic groups. 



After careful learning of creative experience of west-european representatives of modern art (M.Doushan, I.Klein, D.Koshut, Tapies, L.Fountain, G.Uker, Y.Bois and Italian tranceavantgardists grouping around Bonito Oliva) young artists have tried to adapt some art-strategies for local cultural context. Their hidden goal was to erode tough limits of arts as an institution and present it as distillation of life mental processes. Main vector of experimental searching of the group was directed to the aspect of meta-lingual synthesis of three aesthetic realities - ancient, sacral, non-figurative systems of Azerbaijani art including Islamic tradition (The Tradition), conceptual art and postmodernism (The Present). Physiological and ideological plastic elements of pre-Islamic and Islamic visual practice passed through the prism of cold analytics of conceptualism and "flavored" with spicy sauce of post modernistic stylistics altogether were giving effect of vivid eclectic mixture of various ideas, value paradigms and models. Active usage of volumetric textures and spatial shapes (object, installation, kinetic experiments), conscious collision (often only in frames of one work) of figurative and abstract elements, including into exposition context of ancient magical practice attributes and selection of intentionally asocial themes, altogether have created sharply psychological frontier situation (in existential meaning) that would provoke the spectator to introspective search of his own "ego". 




The Independence: Illusion of the Freedom


 In the late 80's there were dark clouds gathering on the political horizon. 1988, apart from cultural rise is also characterized by Garabagh (Armenian-Azerbaijani) conflict and beginning of the national liberation movement for political independency of Azerbaijan, i.e. for withdrawal from the USSR. Since that moment, the center of gravity of public attention turning to socio-political level. Dissident intelligentsia forming the Popular Front, which under conditions of paralyzed government structure has authorized itself to lead the liberation movement. Central Square of the Baku City has became the place for holding mass meeting against the existing regime. Places of compact abode of Armenians and Azerbaijani people have turned into the operations scene. The war was already broken out. Socio-mental temperature in the region was progressively increasing and after reaching the critical point in 1990 it became the reason for fierce reaction from the direction of soviet government who initiate throwing military forces into the capital of Azerbaijan on January 20th 1990 entailed by rigorous extirpation of the civilian population. Further it was collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), declaration of the state independency in the same year, sequence of internal political conflicts (coup d'etat attempts, struggle for power, etc), economic crisis and onset of post-colonial "transition" period (still lasting), and eventually coming to power in 1993 of former communist leader G.Aliyev and establishment of flexible form of the totalitarian regime inevitably accompanied by accession of cult of personality, limitation of democratic freedom, prosperity of the corruption in government bodies and nation's impoverishment. This is the unfavorable socio-political background for development of Azerbaijani culture. 


 But regardless of unfavorable conditions the art kept on developing. Declaration of the state independency has actualized the problem of national self-identification: who are we? Where are our roots? After collapsing of Soviet cultural and ideological space which was leveling national specifications of the union republics, Azerbaijani intellectual elite began to show "awoken" interest for revealing of the own beginnings. "Peyker" art-group was found at that period and unified mature and already famous artists (Sanan Gurbanov, Elchin Aslanov, Adalat Bayramov, Elchin Mamedov and Mazahir Afshar) and tried to solve exactly those problems. Leitmotif for group's searching was constituting the universal form and plastic method (or semantic language) which would allow the modification of structural principles of the traditional art (mainly of the medieval miniature). It could be conductive to create the work which on the one hand would meet all requirements of the actual art and meantime be rooted in traditional frame of reference. Thus, after creative assimilation of intellectual and plastic earnings of numeric figures of XX century artistic culture (P.Klee, K.Malevich, V.Kandinskiy, H.Miro, P.Mondrianne, Vasareli) and correlation their inventions in sphere of shape with traditional art principles, participants of "Peyker" group were elaborating mainly form and plastic aspects of visual art without going out of frames of easel art forms. Only exception was creative work of M.Afshar, who was tending to activate national and historical motives: in all his works related to the mentioned period same as in the behavioral image of the artist there was undisguised manifesto of ancient Turkic aesthetic problematic; in expositional aspect artist was tending to installation form of presentation, showing preference to dimensional decisions. 


One of the negative factors in 90's was cultural isolation of Azerbaijan as a result of armed conflict with neighboring country which produced an impartial image for the republic. Informational blockade resulted in suspension of receiving the information regarding art from other countries. Therefore it has appeared the necessity of establishing the communicational bridges with foreign colleagues, lively contacts and creative mutual enriching collaboration. It became possible owing to the active practice of organizing the international symposiums initiated in late 80's by Baku Center of Arts, which since its foundation was pursuing the policy of establishing cultural links with developed countries. Below we would like to list several examples of such fruitful and useful practice. 


During three years (1990-1993) there was held number of international symposiums with invited artists from Austria and Turkey. In 1994 5 Azerbaijani artists - Togrul Agababayev, Chingiz Babayev, Ujal and E;ena Ahverdiyevand Elnur Babayev were invited to take part in symposium in Austria. It should be also mentioned that in 1993-1994 international project named "Art-show" with geographical vector Baku-Odesne-Kiev where artists from Denmark, Azerbaijan and Ukraine were attracted to, was about to be organized (but not successfully due to some organizational problems). 


Symposium practice was also extensively used by another group of artists. Backbone of that group was formed by painters and graphic artists, such as Elchin Mamedov, Inna Kostina (she's working in batik as well) and Namik Mamedov, the others varied depending on specific projects. If previous "series" of above-mentioned symposium was held in Baku (in "Gandjlik" resort place, not far from the capital), then this "community" localized its (mainly autumn) activity in ancient Azerbaijani city called Sheki well-known for its historic and cultural traditions. Events are conformably called "Sheki Symposiums" and held annually since 1995. 

 All those events were of familiarizing and very friendly nature. Despite of dissimilarity of creative manners all artists preferred to work mainly in symbolic and neo-expressionistic or neo-conceptual stylistic manner. Main strategic goal of organizing those events was not only in efforts of presenting them as serious planetary parties but in gaining of collaboration experience between different artists, their close co-operation and, of course, in discovering common points between East and West.


 It should be said that in an effort to intensify the artistic processes and, in first turn, overcome the informational shortage in 1997 in Baku was found Center of Modern Culture "ARTS etc." (Initiator and president of the Center is Chingiz Babayev). Since that time and till now the library of the Center was replenished by a quantity of informational materials regarding modern culture from many countries (richly illustrated monographs, big exhibition catalogues, periodic issues, etc), which help the local artists to orientate themselves in events of world culture. 


Same 1997 was year of establishment "Labyrinth" group (Sana Aleskerov, Sabina Shihlinskaya, Ujal Akhverdiyev, Elnur Babayev, Elena Akhverdiyeva, Eliyar Alimirzoyev, Guseyn Akhverdiyev, Ayten Rzakuliyeva, Shahin Shihaliyev, Museyib Amirov, Zakir Guseynov), which was formed partly by artists who began their activities in frames of Bake Center of Arts. In the same year group opened the presentational exhibition which attracted attention of the artistic establishment and community by its non-ordinary expositional approach: homogeneous space of the exhibition hall was irregularly divided into sectors for artifacts and also text compositions from certain poetic stanzas and free associative "flows". Besides, insertion into the expositional context of live music performed by young jazz band and projection show of the amateur film about the group participants were creating "diffusive" atmosphere of different arts' synthesis and erasing the borders between them. There is remarkable fact that artists of that group being mainly painters, graphic artists or sculptors either under the time influence (after detecting the necessity in actual forms of art), or competently using new opportunities of sponsor help to art projects related to ecology (from some oil companies), have organized since 1996 to 2000 three interesting and much-talked-of exhibitions actions under the general "code" name "Land Art": 1998 - "Ecology", 1999 - "Exile from Paradise", 2000 - "Art Fair" ( it should be mentioned that success of those events was predetermined by high polygraphic quality of catalogues containing skillfully designed photographic works by Sanan Aleskerov). Judging by the names and matter of the work, it may be observed the open claim for realization of the projects related to one of the forms of modern conceptual art - land-art: almost all works were somehow concerned with land, with landscape of Absheron peninsula. But in fact might be those works identified as related to land-art? 


If judging criterions of the land-art strictly, that genre identification appears very problematic. Most likely, in this instance we are facing that "psycho-semantic" phenomenon which was described by modern French philosopher Jacques Derride, when different authors in their works are actualized not those levels which are on the surface of the meaning and those he wanted to attract attention to and therefore consciously emphasized, but those ones which unconsciously appeared in the text in spite of or even contrary to author's will. In other words, actions organized by "Labyrinth" group were not so much of artistic and aesthetic but rather of socio-cultural meaning aimed at "art-diagnostics" of ecosphere of the region we live in. The matter is that after collapse of USSR and breakdown of economic structures of the society, on the territory of Baku city and nearby places there were ecologically dangerous zones, so called "desolation places" appeared: trash dumps, deserted plants, empty hangars, in short - there were repellent and dead spaces (this kind of situation is equitable for all post-colonial countries with industrial orientation). But problem was that those spaces being ownerless are progressing like cancerous growth, capturing more and more habitable territories. Lightly fastidious attitude to those spaces is aggravating the problem. It was necessary to change the approach to those zones and treat them as reflection of our social being in accordance with ecological axiom: environment is a result of extrapolation of the internal quality of the society. Projects of "Labyrinth" group, being nominally of land-art nature, in fact were actualizing exactly those social aspects, unconsciously canalizing the public attention to the problem of inhabiting the ecologically unfavorable spaces with the purpose of their following integration back into the healthy spheres of ecosphere. 


Living in Non-Existent context


When describing the happenings in modern visual culture of Azerbaijan it is impossible to bypass the following critical and problematic issues: What are the objective conditions for the existence of modern culture? Have they ever subsisted? 


Answers for those questions are not very comforting - it has to be categorically ascertained that neither in 90's, nor now we had any objective conditions for existence of actual art (art exists strange though). Accordingly some main questions resulted in such situation (was, totalitarian regime, corruption, economic crisis), it is expediently to point out two more reasons: a) economic and b) "educational".



Owing to the specific conditions of post-colonial "transition period", when factor of socio-economic instability dominates and "oppresses" all spheres of public life, modern art of Azerbaijan turned out to be in dramatic and ambiguous situation: Soviet control-gear of artistic life which was mainly leaning on the government work was totally destroyed (along with socio-political structure) and new one had no time to be formed. Thus, in the presence of enormous spiritual and creative potential of the Azerbaijani artists (who continue working despite of everything) it is essential to establish a fact of total lack in the republic of the modern art infrastructure with all necessary components: art-market, gallery net of different level, and various conceptual and strategic orientation, museum of modern art, curatorial practice, periodical art issues, auctions, etc. Such state of affairs, on the objective basis, is excluding Azerbaijan from the context of actual artistic life and incredibly aggravates activities of modern Azerbaijani artists aimed at realization of the cultural projects inside the international cultural net. Not numerous state and private galleries are guided by the same strategy of organizing group and personal exhibitions of any artists regardless of creative conception ( the only term is financial potential to pay for the leasing the exhibitions hall), and in the intervals between exhibitions usage the gallery space for "permanent expositions" for the sale, presented in chaotic way. In other words, the artistic policy is mainly of spontaneous and unsystematic nature, it does not stimulate the wholesome competition of different discursive contexts. That is despite of multiplicity and frequency of exhibitions, only a few of them may pretend to "true actuality", i.e. to adequate interrelationship with the events of world artistic process.


Another substantial reason of lack of actual artistic process is conservatism of the educational strategy. If draw attention to the contents of both high school and academies educational programs of Azerbaijan, it is easy to find out that those programs go back to academic program of St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in XIX century. Main and per se only requirements of that program is ability to draw and paint in academic manner. As regards the modern art then information of it students get from art history lectures, scant and pared down besides (to render it has to be admitted that after opening of State Academy of Arts in 2000 the situation is gradually changing for the better).



Above-mentioned factors have resulted in the situation when most of Azerbaijani artists (mainly of middle and older generation) prefer to work in the frames of conservative art forms such as painting, graphics and sculpture. Other forms of the Actual art they do not accept because of lack of experience of adequate perception. As a result those artists not even realize that they are out of the context of the actual culture, as their practice is marginal and non-adequate to modern epoch (probably in here it should be lied the border between "modern" and "actual" definitions, i.e. not each modern artists might be marked as actual). Besides, main forms of the actual art such as photography, video art, latest digital technologies, installations, are tightly associated with economic factor. If taking into consideration the profound economic crisis in the country, it is easy to conceive how much problematic for the most of Azerbaijani artists is to deal with those art forms. No wonder that lots of artists tried to use any possibility to leave the country where they could not realize themselves. In the present state of affairs in 90's some artists were able to fulfill interesting projects abroad. Thereupon, experience of Chingiz Babayev is quite suggestive, who has realized in 1994-1996 number of land-art projects abroad which directly influenced (in spite of the physical distance) artistic processes in the republic (1995 - "Landscape-Art-Project-95", Art in the Open Air, Gars am Camp Vahberg, Austria, "Stones" project; 1996 - "Arte Sella-96-Art in Nature", Borgo Valsugana, Italy, "Handmade Carpets" and "Stone Trees" projects; same year in Austria there were prepared "White Symphony" installation related to "Modern Ecological Mentality" series). As it seems, artists was not just realizing his projects, but also softly and perhaps unconsciously implanting into west-european cultural space the certain message from the native land. Thereupon, "Handmade Carpet" project is very interesting. The work is quadrangular form on the ground made of lots of forest bars, leaves and different fruits, in general imitating visual structure of the Azerbaijani carpet (module of the composition is encountered on the Azerbaijani carpets zigzag symbolic sign-image of the dragon). The crux intrigue of the work was in its realization in strict conceptual land-art format, which from the very outset implies discretion and cold analysis of the approach, but artist made it in bright "baroque" manner peculiar to Azerbaijani traditional decorative art (color intensity was set by the fruits and leaves). Collision of two multivector fields, resulting from western and oriental mentality, has provoked the special perception regime. Besides, author was planning to set carpet on the fire, because fire is ancient Azerbaijani Zoroastic Symbol of the Light and Spiritual Sun (plan could not be fulfilled because of some synoptic reasons). Thus, on the suggestive level conception of the work is perceived as message about oriental esoteric idea of "three" which underlies the universe and was formulated in western intellectual context by F.Gegel as dialectic formula: thesis - antithesis - synthesis. It means that given conceptual ("cold") format of the work is thesis, its presenting in bright, and oriental ("fervent") stylistic key is antithesis, and, finally, action of sizzling fire which curtails all that chaotic picturesque richness into the resultant point of the Purification and Unity is a synthesis... 

Lack of actual context has generated such socio-cultural phenomenon as "internal immigration", sharply defined in reasonable refusal of some artists of participation in official artistic process which demonstrates their aversion of social environment. Thus, Teymur Daimi in 90's, after break-up of "Tasdig" group has radically refused exhibition activities and totally turned to introspective searching of "internal heaven". In some of his art projects made in meta-disciplinary regime in the intersection of performance, body art and photography, such as "Archetype of the Woman" (1996), "Vanishing body" (1998), "Neo-Gobustan" (1999, last two ones in common with Ilgar Tahiri), "Golden Embryo" (2001), "Geo Creativity" (2001), "Galatea" (2001), and also in theoretical researches artist is trying to create the mental structure of alternative reality which would be perpendicular to the surrounding reality and being utopia (in frames of earthy mentality) of parallel "non-actual" existence - internal ontological heaven… 


 It is important to mention an objective factor that crisis in Azerbaijani art coincides with outlook crisis in world culture when after coming of postmodernism it has revealed an idea of dispersion of accents or rather overaccentaion of discursive vectors in world art. It has begun quite widespread thesis of "that each culture must be evaluated in frame of references peculiar to the same culture, but is sorted with some outward model claiming to the truth in the last instances. 


Signs of Revival: reality or utopia?


In spite of all collisions of the "transition period", by the beginning of III millennium situation in the modern art of Azerbaijan starting to improve gradually. As it was said above, in 2000 on basis of former artistic faculty of University of Arts and Culture it was found Academy of Arts which became the place for forming of the new generation of young artists, free of Soviet cultural program stereotypes. After confederating under the direction of art historian and curator Leyla Akhyndzadeh they participate in two big exhibition projects: "Wings of the time" (2000) and "Orientalism from inside and outside" (2002). (It should be mentioned that those projects were organized by Ministry of Youth and Sport, Center of Modern Culture "ARTS etc" and Open Society Institute, in particular Art and Culture Programs director Jahangir Selimkhanov). Even first exhibition have revealed lots of new names and creative groups first appeared on the artistic life "scene" of Azerbaijan. Specialists' attention was drawn to such groups as "Sex 2000" (Babek Agayev, Ali Hasanov and Andrey Klimov) and "Wings of the time" (Farid Abdullayev, Elshan Ibragimov, Faridbek Kerimov and Anton Osver). The most extravagant was probably performance by A. Hasanov called "Keelcoushe", in which author using peculiar to him sharply dramatic expression manner on the edge of traumatism and shock was demonstrating existential dynamics of abandonment, loneliness and despair… 

It is impossible to mention also Gamid Ibadullayev, Anara Mustafaeva, Orkhan Guseynov, Fakhriya Mamedova, Ramiz Imanov. Each of them in spite of young, almost student age have demonstrated the bright originality and close awareness of essential principles of actual art. Besides, new technologies and communicational opportunities (cable TV, Internet) after becoming an integral part of every day life are encroaching upon sphere of the actual art - young artists show interest and enthusiasm in learning the latest programs of digital technologies, computer graphics and endless expanses of virtual reality (Rauf Halilov, Javid Gurbanov, Elshan Ibragimov, etc). 


On the "Orientalism from inside and outside" exhibition which had international status, significant attention was drawn by light installation by Rasahd Alekberov. The work was set out on the shadows freak: on the low table there lots of different domestic items not related to each other but aimed at the next effect - light beams directed on the table from two sides were forming on the wall (work was installed in the corner for using two walls) the forethought shadows - on the one wall there were shadows associated with New York (skyscrapers) and on another association with the Muslim country (mosques). I think after 11 September 2000 events the work is more than just actual… 


 In 2001 Center of Modern Culture "Arts etc" with Open Society Institute assistance has realized and artistic and ecological project "Art and Environment" /"Ganli Gol" (project author Ch. Babayev, Coordinator T.Daimi). Besides social aspect which was already considered in the present essay (when the matter concerned "Labyrinth" group actions), that project was pursuing the educational purposes - many young artists for the forst time tried themselves in new for them form of the conceptual art.

Thus it can be said that since 2000 in artistic life of Azerbaijan there is outlined the positive upheaval, high-quality move connected, firstly, with appearance of new generation of artists-passionaries and, second and more essential, with actualization of saved creative potential. But how much stable if the present situation and will it be able further to initiate qualitative new turn of the modern art development in the republic? 

 In all probability many things depend on energizing of geopolitical and geocultural factors. As it was mentioned in the beginning of the article, Azerbaijan during long historic evolution has absorbed intense spiritual flows of zoroastric, Turkic, Christian and Islamic cultural traditions. Historically being one of the branches of Islamic civilization which in many respects determined mental aspect of national culture, modern Azerbaijan, however, has not become orthodox Muslim country and ascertained itself in secular civilization context (the last, for some reasons, is not accepted by European intellectual elite). Geopolitical position of the country, situated between Europe and Asia enables the country to stand as Geocultural Bridge connecting two continental meta-cultural and civilization models into the common Eurasian community. As a matter of fact, if refer to the history it is easy to mention that it was so in fact. Fruitful synthesis of many cultural and religious traditions in the certain geographical region can be described by only fact of location of Azerbaijan in the "middle of the cross", i.e. on the intersection of two geocultural vectors: West-East axis energized by reality of the ancient "Silk Road" and North-South axis (Orthodox Russia and Shiah Iran). That geographical destiny symbolically was assimilating Azerbaijan to the center for joining and mixing of main spiritual power lines of the planet. Being part of Russian and then Soviet Empire has impeded natural development rhythm of the Azerbaijani culture. But after declaration of the independency geocultural factor again has gained the supreme meaning. In the today situation of actual confrontation of East and West civilizations (especially after September 11, 2000) Azerbaijan is quite able to become the connecting-link between them, so-called "East Gates". The only obstacle for that is integration of Azerbaijan into the European civilization process caused by building up by some western mass media the biased and wrongly repellent image of the country. 


After joining of Azerbaijan into the Council of Europe in 2000, situation is lead to be improved. In present time in republic there are lots of European (political, social and cultural) organizations aimed at adaptation of socio-cultural landscape of the region to organizational and economic structure of European civilization model. But in sphere of modern fine arts, unfortunately, almost is not changed. In global scale Azerbaijan because of lack of modern art infrastructure is still an outsider of world artistic process. In this case the only hope is for interest of European organizations, functioning in sphere of modern art, in creative collaboration with representatives of Azerbaijani modern culture (because those organizations are already included into the existing divaricated and mobile infrastructure which means that exactly they have right of choosing the object for possible collaboration). The epoch of religious and political discrepancies, when modern culture appears as almost only model of international cultural collaboration could allow Azerbaijan to realize its civilization mission of unifying West and East (and North and South), and also European cultural community (with assistance of Azerbaijani and, generally, Caucasian culture) to come out for closer dialogue with representatives of Oriental and Asian geocultural mentalities. Thus, continental axis West-East (i.e. "Silk Road") will be energized what will necessarily draw to decreasing of geopolitical tension and prevention of dangerous and totally undesirable "collision of the civilizations". 





Thus, in the thesis order we have traced the main tendencies and stages taken place in Azerbaijani modern art during approximately twenty years of development. As it was mentioned, modern art does not appear suddenly from the abstract darkness, but originated from the previous periods. Actual art of Azerbaijan is also rooted in the historical past. When axiomatically structuring twenty-year period of national art, four periods should be conditionally underlined:


1. Pre-perestroika stage (1980-1985), when along with inertial dominating of social realism there are some non-formal artists whose creative works did not fall into the pattern of official art.


2. Perestroika stage (1985-1990). Main events in Azerbaijani art are observed since mid 80's after notorious Gorbachev perestroika. In those years there were established Baku Center of Arts and first non-formal art-groups and it was found the practice of international exhibitions and symposiums. Dynamics of the cultural life events let us to mark this period as "Golden Age" of Azerbaijani art.


3. Stage of postcolonial "independency" (1990-2000). In 90's, in spite of declaration of the independency, Azerbaijani art was undergoing the deep crisis, caused by specifications of postcolonial "transition period". Economic collapse, conservatism in educational system and stereotypes of perception were the reasons for deficient development in the republic of the man-caused creative forms (video-art, for example). Artistic activity in that period mainly was focused around organization of the international symposiums.


4. And, finally, stage of relative stabilization/revival (2000-present). Energizing of the integrative processes in culture. Establishment of the Academy of Arts. Joining the Council of Europe. Starting of educational reforms and appearing of new generation of artists, who actively cope with the most advanced forms of the actual art. Organization of the big artistic events and energizing of cultural dialogue between East and West. Assurances of Azerbaijani artists in readiness for the open cultural collaboration with West-European structures connected with actual art. New plans, new projects, new expectations…



© Teyimur Daimi