Being a place where modern and traditional coexist, interact and collide, Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, proves to be an alluring cultural intersection on the Caspian shore by portraying the ever developing art scene that give us an insight into the county’s aspirations for the 21st century.
After seven decades under the Soviet regime, the streets in the city still present the marks of a past that permeates the collective imaginary, but does not refrain it from absorbing contemporary trends, thus creating a modern, meaningful scene.
Locally and abroad, Azerbaijanis have been proving their value with new artists, while at the same time never forgetting those who came before. Whether in music, dance or contemporary arts, Azerbaijan spreads its production and embarks upon hosting foreign events, showing us its true (multi) colours.
From the Caspian to the world
For the second time at the Venice Biennale (held until November 22nd), Azerbaijani pavilion now holds two exhibitions. The first, Vita Vitale, explores ecological issues in the country and how they are currently addressed, in an IDEA (International Dialogue for Environmental Action) initiative.
Simultaneously, the exposition Beyond the Line touches the much stigmatized URSS and its deeds before the lifting of the Iron Curtain, exploring pieces from seven at the time considered rebellious artists from the 60s, 70s and 80s that were not killed nor punished, but were instead consigned to oblivion. The aim of such work is to reveal the non-uniformity of the so called Soviet production to the world, shedding some light on the variety in the obscure underground scene.
Many artists have also been known worldwide due to initiatives like Fly to Baku – an exposition of contemporary art held in several countries and created by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Even though the focus is on what is currently produced there, the foundation does not ignore the rich history related to the country, which was once a trade spot on the Silk Road, around the 11th century and conversion point of the Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic cultures.
This consciousness is not restricted to a curatorial text on a website, though. A cultural clash or a syncretism is also present in what those artists excel at creating today. One of the most prominent Azerbaijani artists, Faig Ahmed, gathers two opposite poles in his oeuvres- he works with rugs garnished with traditional patterns that encounter technology through pixilation and dissolution into blocks of colour.
He and many other artists were incited by the opening of the YAMAT Contemporary Art Centre. In the Azerbaijan context, this non-profitable organization is held responsible for encouraging and helping local artists, both the firmly established and those taking the first steps in the art world, exposing their work around the world.
However, if on the one hand Azerbaijan revisits and modernises its culture, on the other hand it does not fall short of the high standards of the European pop culture. Proof of that was the presence and chances of the second time entrant Elnur Huseynov at Eurovision 2015 (that will have its champion announced on May 23rd). The contestant has also participated in the fourth season of the Turkish edition of The Voice, winning the first place.
It is to say that Baku is also opened to the world. Ever since its independence, Azerbaijan has been working towards several agreements with international organizations. It also reflects the posture of a country that wishes to reaffirm its political and territorial integrity. Speaking of culture, the country hosts several foreign events, at the same time it recognizes natives whose fame was built overseas.
The eighth Rostropovich Festival, coming to an end on May 24th, pays tribute to the homonym Azerbaijani musician, who was the conductor and artistic director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington for 17 seasons. Whereas the festival cannot neglect its erudite core, it also counts with presentations such as ‘Jazz and not only’ and ‘Russian rising stars’.
The capital also welcomes this year the ‘Chocolate Museum of Nikola’ exhibition that stays in town until June 28th, after touring 40 cities around the world. The exhibition counts with personalized sculptures for this very occasion, such as the Maiden Tower 70-kilogram chocolate miniature.
Finally, in communion with the principles of honoring local culture without tethering it, Yarat and the French Institute in Azerbaijan have brought the spectacle of contemporary dance ‘Faun and Majestic Nymph’, played by the French dancer and choreographer Emmanuelle Huynh. The presentation was inspired by the one-act ballet ‘The Afternoon of a Faun’, created by Ukrainian choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky and first presented in 1902.
In the end, be that for the inspirational historic environment or the ‘glocallity’ of movements nowadays, the cultural scene in Azerbaijan sizzles and joyfully plays with the amount of influences, delivering unique experiences to onlookers.