Aida Mahmudova is the founder of YARAT – a non-for-profit organization dedicated to nurturing an understanding of contemporary art in Azerbaijan. During the VIENNAFAIR Aida presented a great show of Azerbaijani artists. Anna Maria Burgstaller talked to Aida …
How did you get the idea of founding your own organization? What does the name YARAT stand for?
I had the idea to found YARAT many years ago but it all came together when I returned to Baku. I saw there was a lack of infrastructure for contemporary art in Azerbaijan, despite there being many talented artists.
YARAT means ‘create’ in Azerbaijani; to me this reflects many of YARAT’s aims and ambitions. I wanted to create opportunities for contemporary art in Azerbaijan to flourish and foster international, creative artistic networks for Azerbaijani art. We have a wide-ranging education programme that enables audiences to get creative at all levels.
I’m delighted to say that since founding YARAT in 2011 we have produced over 70 projects in Azerbaijan and internationally. Our project at Viennafair is the first time YARAT will be exhibiting in Austria and we are delighted to introduce the Austrian public to our work.
Besides many educational initiatives – including lectures and workshops – there is also a young artist project called ARTIM. What exactly is this project about?
ARTIM means ‘progress’ in Azerbaijani and is a programme to support young artists and creative professionals in Azerbaijan. In particular, it gives young practitioners the opportunity to exhibit their works in a professional context. A good example of this is Zavod, an exhibition curated by artist Faig Ahmed which included 29 emerging Azerbaijani artists and took place in an abandoned Soviet-era air-conditioning factory.
This project is part of your presentation at the VIENNAFAIR – three artists are referring to Sovetsky, a district in Baku. What is so special about this district?
Sovetsky is a run-down but colorful district. It’s special to many Azerbaijanis because, while it is known to be quite dangerous, it is also seen as a preserver of Azerbaijani culture. Many prominent figures from twentieth century Azerbaijani culture were born in the district and, being a slightly isolated and close-knit community, the district was able to keep Azerbaijani traditions alive during the Soviet era.
I chose to curate an exhibition and make work about Sovetsky because it symbolises the rapid urban and social change the city of Baku is undergoing. Baku has an ancient history, with numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a myriad of architectural styles. Since independence in 1991 the city’s landscape has shifted. I grew up as Azerbaijan gained independence, so have seen how this city has changed first hand and keep on returning to it in my art.
How are the artists dealing with this subject across different media including photography, video, painting and installation?
Each artist is responding in quite a different way. Sanan Aleskerov’s photography of Sovetsky reveals its dilapidated street ‘monuments’ and offers a rare glimpse into the districts forgotten corners.
Orkhan Huseynov’s work takes a more personal approach to Sovetsky and reflects on the community there. He incorporates memories and scenes from his childhood and those into video works, which are literally ‘tinted’ with nostalgia to appear like old-fashioned hand-painted photographs.
My work is an installation which considers the nostalgia and memory imbued in urban environments. I took an old, crumbling ornate door fragment from the Sovetsky district and cast inverse ‘shadows’ of its lattice patterning on the floor in polished steel. The installation, which appears monumental and permanent, is a way of commemorating a moment in time.
Since the foundation of YARAT in 2011 many projects were realised. What is going to be next?
We have a lot planned! We are very excited for 2015 when we will be launching a new, dedicated centre for contemporary art in Baku. This 2,000 square meters space will be YARAT’s first permanent exhibition space and house both a permanent collection of work from the Caucasus and Central Asia and temporary exhibitions. The space will also enable us to consolidate our wide-ranging programme of education events.
We are also excited to have our third public arts festival during the summer of 2015, coinciding with the first ever edition of the European Olympics, taking place in Baku in June.
Thank you for your time!
Interview by Anna Maria Burgstaller
YARATBaku, Azerbaijan, AZ1005 www.yarat.az