With her newest exhibition, Non Imagined Perspectives, launching today at YARAT Contemporary Art Space in Baku, Sophie Breitsameter talks to artist and founder of YARAT, Aida Mahmudova, about the inspiration behind her latest show, career challenges and highlights and her plans for the year ahead
Tell us about the inspiration behind your latest show Non Imagined Perspectives and how the show came together?
For my upcoming show at YARAT, Non Imagined Perspectives, I have produced a new body of work that materialized out of experimentation, which is an important element to my practice. I have pushed the limits of what I can do with the materials I am currently working with (paper, clay, cement, stone). Breaking through and building up these materials is, in a way, both a physical as well as a mental experiment for me, where process is a powerful force for both healing and destruction.
You have had an impressive number of solo exhibitions over the years now (including your upcoming one), and you also wear two hats – that of artist and curator. As a curator do you find it hard not to curate your own exhibition?
In the past I’ve curated a number of exhibitions, however my focus now centres on my own artistic practice. Although of course, like any artist, I have a vision in mind for the exhibition, I also appreciate and value the expertise of others. Working with a curator can be a brilliant way of unpacking the works and finding new relationships between them.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2018?
The rest of 2018 will be extremely busy for both YARAT and myself. YARAT has recently appointed Suad Garayeva-Maleki as its new artistic director and from May, we will also welcome two new international residents who will live and work in Baku for three months. The work created by these artists will be featured in an exhibition in mid-July at ARTIM Project Space. I am also looking forward to Shilpa Gupta’s large solo show, which will feature a brand new commission in July. In October, YARAT will host M.A.P., which is a music, arts and performance festival taking place in venues and locations across Baku.
What would you say has been your career highlight so far?
For me personally, it was participating in the 55th and 56th editions of the Venice Biennale in the group shows Love Me, Love Me Not (2013) and VITA VITALE (2015) respectively. It is great to be involved in projects which feature a variety of artists from across the world, encompassing a breadth of practices.
What have been some of the challenges you’re proud to have overcome and proudest moments in establishing YARAT as a leading arts organization?
In Azerbaijan we’re seeing a growing infrastructure of galleries and collectors, which is exciting, and an increasing interest in Azerbaijani contemporary art from a wider audience. Baku has always been a cosmopolitan city and there is considerable freedom to experiment. The biggest challenge for the art scene is that the cultural context of Azerbaijan is still little known further afield, however that is changing. Many are curious to see how our contemporary art scene continues to develop, as witnessed through the growing number of Azerbaijani artists having the opportunity to exhibit their work across Europe and the US.
One of the ways YARAT establishes itself as a global platform is through its artist residency programme. The programme seeks to help young Azerbaijani artists develop their practice, as well as supporting emerging international artists. Each residency hosts six international and four local artists in YARAT Studio’s spaces. We also host a number of commission-oriented solo exhibitions by leading international and regional artists at our YARAT Centre every year. The works resulting from these commissions and residencies open up new discussions between Azerbaijan and the rest of the world, hopefully raising the country’s profile and cementing its presence on the global contemporary art scene.
Education is at the heart of what YARAT does, tell us about some of the initiatives and success stories…
Education has been at the top of YARAT’s agenda since its creation, and its public programme includes workshops, courses, lectures and screenings amongst other opportunities. We work to develop interest in contemporary art from the wider community, through teaching and participation.
Little YARAT is an example of this, where we work with children of all ages, from school children to teenagers. Running every weekend it encourages children to get involved in YARAT’s workshops and interact with local and guest artists. It’s really rewarding to see the next generation of artists explore and nurture their own creativity. Maybe in the future they will have their own show at YARAT!
You use several different materials in your work, what is your favourite to work with?
My curiosity towards material is something that has always been at the forefront of my practice. I like to blur the lines between the two dimensional and the three dimensional, by creating sculptural paintings, for example. For Non Imagined Perspectives, I’m experimenting with marble and other materials such as epoxy resin, coal and gypsum to create layered sculptures where these materials either compliment or destroy one another. In a way, these works are reminiscent of a cross section of the earth’s strata, and all the violent and unpredictable processes contained within it.
In this show, “material has been used as an exercise for material growth and emotional healing”. Tell us about this theme within your work…
The process of destruction and recreation is very important to me. For me as an artist, it acts as a stand in for many of our human emotions as well as processes such as entropy and re-creation, lacerations and layering: they all have both a philosophical and a physical reality to them.
How does the city of Baku inspire you in your art and on a daily basis?
Growing up in Baku, leaving to study abroad, and then returning after 10 years away piqued my interest in memory and nostalgia. Baku is a place rich in history, a cross section of cultures and religions rapidly changing with modern development. I have always been drawn to the ornamental architectural elements which surround me, and as Baku develops, its architecture becomes increasingly more diverse and layered. Baku and its surrounding areas are also home to some awe-inspiring natural landscapes, which find their way into my work over time in both direct and abstracted ways.
Images courtesy of the artist and YARAT Contemporary Art Space