This year we sent Brandon Coburn to Venice to report back on Azerbaijan’s Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Curated by Emin Mammadov, this is the fifth year Azerbaijan has participated in the Biennale. The exhibition titled Born to Love includes artworks and installations by seven contemporary female Azerbaijani artists. The exhibition is presented in a beautiful exhibition space called Procuratie Vecchie on San Marco square and is realised by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Brandon Coburn visits the Pavilion and reports back.
The Heydar Aliyev Foundation is an important non governmental organisation based in Azerbaijan. The foundation contributes to the social and economic development of the country and has a primary goal of safeguarding national and spiritual values of Azerbaijani culture. Recently the foundation contributed to the restoration of several important monuments in Italy, including restoration of ancient manuscripts dedicated to Azerbaijan’s history in the Vatican Library.
Born to Love is presented as a reinterpretation of the principles of our current time, imbued with the history of Azerbaijani culture and trends in modern technology. All of the artists are able to present their ideas of nature and technology in current contemporary culture. The exhibition dives into human nature and explores the challenges modern technologies have presented to the balance between human progress and the natural world.
The exhibition concept resonates with the theme of the Biennale, The Milk of Dreams, which takes its title from a book by Leonora Carrington (1917–2011). In the book, the Surrealist artist describes a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination. It is a world where everyone can change, be transformed, become something or someone else. The Biennale Exhibition takes Leonora Carrington’s otherworldly creatures, along with other figures of transformation, as companions on an imaginary journey through the metamorphoses of bodies and definitions of the human.
The Azerbaijan National Pavilion features works of seven Azerbaijani artists – Zhuk (Narmin Israfilova), Infinity, Ramina Saadatkhan, Fidan Kim (Novruzova), Fidan Akhundova, Sabiha Khankishiyeva and Agdas Baghirzade. Selecting seven artists for the exhibition was deliberate; according to the curator, this number is often considered sacred and has been presented within Azerbaijani philosophy. The famous philosopher Niami Ganjavi’s poem, titled Seven Beauties, influenced the narrative of the curation. The poem is based on the legend of the Sassanid Shah Bahram Ghur (420-439 AD). Bahram had seven wives, each lived in a different palace and according to the ancient mythology, they were each dedicated to a different planet and day of the week. The exhibition provides seven different rooms or “palazzo” for each of the artist’s presentations, which reflect the deep philosophy of the literature.
The work by the artist Infinity, titled All is Sacred, is an installation consisting of a mirrored room with an image of geometric shapes and patterns projected onto one of the walls. The sacred geometric patterns are animated and mesmerising as they shift and change shape on the walls. The mirrors cause the image to be reflected all around the room, which gives the viewer the sense of being inside the artwork itself and creates the feeling of standing below the ocean. The artist is searching for “the essence of nature and the world in which we live.”
The work titled Born to Love, by the artist Zhuk, which was used to title the exhibition is an installation piece that reminds the viewer of the indifferent and negligent attitude of humanity towards Earth. The main image is of a baby, which represents the Earth and erupting from the belly is the dark pollution that is being constantly emitted into the environment. The image of this work is a powerful reminder of the balance between humanity and nature.
The Azerbaijan National Pavilion is a must see at this year’s Biennale exhibition. The sheer coherence of Azerbaijan’s show is evident in the way that the works speak to each other from one room to the next. It is a show of surprises and resonances, one that honours its artists by letting them dictate its paths, while providing a perfect structure to allow their thoughts to permeate, and their imaginations to inspire.
Online Editor: Candice Tucker
Written by: Brandon Coburn