In 1949, archeologists in the Altai mountains discovered the oldest ever pile carpet. At 2,500 years old, the so-called Pazyryk rug is the legacy of an ancient Eastern carpet weaving tradition which continues to hold significance in the 21st century. Testament to this fact is Baku-based textile artist Faig Ahmed, whose works are renowned for finding endless possibility within the constraints of the carpet medium. Through methods of inversion and deconstruction, Ahmed’s latest project, PIR, which recently opened at Sapar Contemporary in New York, blazes a trail of heritage and modernity. Ahmed speaks to Ella Johnson about finding a balance between conservation and subversion, and how history is his sounding board for creativity.
Baku: How does PIR depart from your other textile works?
Faig Ahmed: I approached the harmony of media and content. A carpet is a physical object with a geographical origin. I used patterns of prayer rugs from three Azerbaijani cultural centers like Baku, Ganja, and Tabriz. The works were made as a metaphor for the teachings of three Spiritual Masters from these cities.
Baku: The etymologies of the title, PIR, are as interwoven as the carpets they name. What does the title mean to you?
FA: In the Azerbaijani language, several words are used meaning ‘fire’: azar, od and ocaq (diminutive from the word ‘od’), alov, çıraq, atəş, and the word ‘Pir’ is applicable for holy people. From ancient times Spiritual Masters in the territory of Azerbaijan have been called ‘Fire’ since such people spread the light of knowledge. The burial places or houses of these holy people were also called the same. This is a beautiful metaphor since Fire is unique but can be expressed in different forms and with different intensities. Relationships between various Sufi Teachers were built on the same principle. How else can you select a title of an exhibition that deals with such Masters?
Baku: How important is it to you to amplify your heritage, and the ancient Spiritual Masters, on the global stage?
FA: The mastery of life they teach us through their poetry is too universal to remain local. Many of their thoughts and understandings are very relevant in the modern world. Nizami Ganjavi can teach simple things but with deep understanding. In the ideas of Seyid Bakuvi in his work ‘The Unity of Being’ (Wahdat Al-Wujud), one can see parallels with the modern interpretation of reality by quantum physics. It is not exactly known what Shams Tabrizi wrote with his hand, but this mysterious person left us his teachings in 40 Rules or sayings (Maqalat-e Shams Tabrizi), which may be a light in the spiritual perception of the modern world.
Baku: Your design process combines digital sketching and traditional weaving practices that have been around for 2500 years. What can this cross-fertilisation of old and new bring to the world of art?
FA: The ‘new’ that is happening now can only be assessed when it becomes the past so we will learn about it in the future.
Baku: The carpet medium, though fixed in size and method of production, seems nonetheless to offer you a kind of boundless possibility – an opportunity to invert, distort, melt. What do you make of that interaction between processes of restriction and subversion?
FA: I think it’s obvious that this is an evolutionary process. It is also the principle of the interaction of chaos and order, as a result of which can lead to the emergence of the ‘new’. It is really interesting to explore the area between tradition and the modern world, this area through which you can see different sections of society. It is fascinating to observe how history, tradition and rituals are linked or transformed with new processes in the global world. Such a view, analysis and practice of this principle, changes a person, therefore the practice of art is the practice of changing oneself. Everything else comes after this understanding.
Baku: What’s next for you?
FA: I try not to make plans, art doesn’t like that.
Faig Ahmed’s PIR will run until 6 January 2022 at Sapar Contemporary, New York.
Online Editor: Candice Tucker