Azerbaijan: The colors of wind and fire

Contemporary Artists from Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan: The colors Of Wind and Fire (2013) by Contemporary Artists from AzerbaijanImago Mundi

Azeri Contemporary Art 

collection for Benetton 

The present-day globe comprises numerous paradoxes. On the one hand, although the economic slowdown persists, we still observe the inexorable course of accelerated globalization and the flawless victory of “mediacracy” through the social networks that envelop our universe, attesting to a catchphrase coined by Marshall McLuhan: “the world is a global village.”  These processes reveal a tendency toward cultural unification and a global aspiration for integrity, unity and transparency. On the other hand, the increscent atomization of human life – where every national civilization longs for individualization and for every person to showcase his or her personal virtues, as well as permanent self-actualization – cannot be denied. 

Abşeron, Tahir Mammadov, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Abşeron (2013)
by Tahir Mammadov

Once again, it is worth stating the crucial role of social media, the role of creating one’s personal icon and myth – the so-called self-image-maker. Boris Groys, an outstanding philosopher, once shared his views on the widespread conception of La Société du spectacle by Guy-Ernst Debord, a French social activist, and stated that it can no longer be said that the modern world is just a “performance society” where people can be either spectators or “actors”.

Untitled, Nizar Mammadov, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2012) by Nizar Mammadov

Today, we have become actors, artists and active practitioners of our very own existence in its entirety. Everyone takes the stage and demonstrates their performance. The question is, however, to whom precisely do they appear, since there are no longer spectators and even potential viewers are preoccupied with their personal challenges and projects. The aforementioned social networks, namely Facebook, give clear evidence of such a situation; they induce users to create their personal universe with unquantifiable photos, videos, references, etc.

Untitled, Samir Salahov, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2012)
by Samir Salahov

With regards to the second trend, this could be considered democratic and transparent. It is this democratic spirit that permeates Luciano Benetton’s project, a project that involves the creation of an art collection from comparatively lesser-known cultures.

Untitled, Bayram Hajizade, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2013) by Bayram Hajizade

Benetton’s approach is fundamentally democratic, every artist is endowed with a 10x12cm canvas and entitled to depict on this tiny piece of fabric whatever he or she conceives. You may ask me: Why did they set such conditions? And here we encounter a situation that emerged in the late-20th to early-21st centuries. It is worth noting that we have been experiencing the same phenomenon for several years – in nearly all fields of the cultural scene we can witness a keen desire for the consolidation and collation of skills and information accumulated by humanity for millennia.

Benetton Star, Teymur Rustamov, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Benetton Star (2012) by Teymur Rustamov

This process results in publications like “100 top artists”, “Great thinkers of the 20th century”, “100 best-known movies”, etc. Humankind seems to summarize the output of lengthy historical phases (or even history in its entirety), in ways that range from collating best-ever collections to unveiling mysteries, in an attempt to invent the unknown. From this perspective, the Azeri art collection falls into the cultural pattern of Benetton’s project perfectly.

Self-portrait, Jamila Aliyeva, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Self-portrait (2013) by Jamila Aliyeva

Azerbaijani modern art still poses a mystery to the rest of the globe. As to the component parts of art from Azerbaijan, one might say three traditions underlie its creation: a tradition of arts and crafts that dates back to medieval times, e.g. carpets and miniatures; the Soviet fine arts school tradition; and, finally, modern Western cultural artistic conventions. The cultural space of Azerbaijan is specifically shaped by an unprecedented combination of these three traditions. Ultimately, Azerbaijan is a cultural terra incognita for most people around the world. The Azerbaijani country pavilion first appeared at the Venice Biennial in 2007 and since then, the contemporary art of our nation has started to become involved in global multinational culture.

Untitled, Behruz Kengerli, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2013) by Behruz Kengerli

Certainly, this process of involvement will take a long time – today’s contemporary art world is a highly complex entity with specific game directives, unwritten rules and upward mobility phases. This points to a strict hierarchy in the art world – here and there we hear about top celebrities of global contemporary art, read about popular artists’ ratings and art piece sale notes, as well as so called “value hierarchy” information. However, the market economy dominates innumerable exhibitions, biennials, festivals, art fairs and multinational art projects and acts as an unconditioned regulator and precursor of criteria, an idoloclast and new talent scout. In short, the contemporary art world cannot be unambiguously accepted as democratic: it is an aggressively elitist and finance-driven entity. Apparently, the free movement of capital has generated such conditions, as capitalist rules grimly impose their law on the world of art.

Untitled, Ayan Aziz, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2013) by Ayan Aziz

However, an artist fails to observe these rules; deep inside, he simply lets himself go. An artist perceives creativity as a means of liberation from he social confinements of life and consumer society. The market economy- free art community constitutes a rigorous democratic space, modeled on social networks, that leaves no room for hierarchy, unilateral dictation and idolization of father figures, etc. The Benetton collection implies a striving to challenge the well-established hierarchy and the promotion of equality among participants in the creative process.

The thistles, Rasul Huseynov, 2012, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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The thistles (2012) by Rasul Huseynov

The project by Benetton involves both big-name, often honored Azerbaijani artists with numerous titles and emerging art community members, including unknown artists and even university graduates. I specifically reject naming their names and revealing “who is who” because anonymity is in keeping with the spirit of the project that seeks to achieve “spiritual equality” for all artists and promotes an unbiased approach to regional cultural information. You may ask me: How does it work out?

Untitled, Leyla Akhmedova, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2013) by Leyla Akhmedova

Before responding, I would like to bring to your attention the importance of the “multiplication” method (often called the “copies” method), which was widely used by Joseph Beuys. The whole point of the method lies in the use of postcards, posters and documents that depict and illustrate personal activities in order to globally disseminate ideas. Hence, if you lack the opportunity to create gigantic installations around the globe, you could make use of the “multiplication” method and distribute copies to raise public awareness of your goals.

Pomegranate, Melik Agamalov, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Pomegranate (2013) by Melik Agamalov

There is a purpose to my giving this example. Most of the Azerbaijani artists not only managed to create decent compositions on the tiny canvases given, but also successfully demonstrated their “signature style”. This style perfectly builds the identity of the art pieces they create. Arguably, they introduced a reduction of their original artworks, or rather the mold copies, and their specific artistic resumé. A viewer who sees these tiny art pieces makes a spiritual trip to the workshops of the artists involved.

Flight, Rena Amrahova, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Flight (2013)
by Rena Amrahova

However, what the audience can ultimately obtain is a general overview of the contemporary art scene in Azerbaijan. In other words, visitors can observe the variety of different stylistic devices and achieve a clear-cut picture of the entire artistic expression of the region. On the one hand, every artist involved might take the opportunity to disseminate his/her message beyond their traditional cultural space.

Untitled, Ramiz Abbasov, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Untitled (2013)
by Ramiz Abbasov

On the other hand, viewers can gain the most correct impression of the fine points of contemporary Azerbaijani art. This unique combination of project-related extreme democracy and a polished, region-adjusted, information-readout method, contribute to the project’s truly innovative outcomes, backed by the most recent developments in global art.

Teymur Daimi
Artist, director, philosopher

Karabakh. Race course, Asif Azerelli, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Karabakh. Race course (2013)
by Asif Azerelli

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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