Neither Europe nor Asia, Azerbaijan is a country of diversity, rich culture and contrasts. The historic mix of ancient empires and the emerging contemporary nation are producing a fascinating cultural scene. Baku the cosmopolitan capital's contemporary art scene is booming with numerous galleries opening across the city, Museum of Modern Art [MIM], the YAY Gallery and the Yarat contemporary Art Space.
Shortlisted for the Jameel Prize in 2013, a biannual award supported by London's V&A Museum, Faig Ahmed exhibits his experimental work with Azeri carpets. For the Baku-based contemporary artist, tradition is merely a starting point, his works subvert the genre. It's impossible to stroll through the lanes of lcheri Sheher, Baku's medieval quarter, without encountering people selling traditional carpets. Their intricately woven patterns have been at the root of Azerbaijan's visual arts for centuries, with each region creating its own distinctive styles.
Ahmed’s carpet patterns melt, Dali-like, over their edges, while his piece, ‘Carpet Equalizer' erupts into sculpted pinnacles gushing from the ground in the manner of a mixing desk, or perhaps even an untamed oil well. Ahmed transforms the medium; instead of a warm, welcoming fabric, those inviting patterns appear on cold aluminium, upsetting expectations at the touch of a fingertip. Other works steadily reduce the carpets to large blocks, a pixelated view for the Internet generation. But the artist himself insists that he is not seeking to merely juxtapose ancient and modern he breaks the stereotypes of what Azerbaijani weaving is all about.
Faig Ahmed was one of 10 artists from the Islamic world nominated for the Jameel Prize and his works were included in an international touring exhibition. He was also among 12 artists chosen to represent Azerbaijan when the country made its first appearance at the Venice Biennial in 2007.
Aida Mahmudova, a graduate of Central St. Martin's College in London, is one of the driving forces behind Baku's burgeoning contemporary art scene. She runs the contemporary art space YARAT – a non-profit contemporary art collective in her hometown, staging intriguing exhibitions since 2011.
But Mahmudova's own art is also worthy of attention. Like many people she has been struck by Baku's position at the crossroads of East and West, while much of her work has drawn her to explore the contrasts between the city's fast-modernising landscape and its semi-derelict hinterland. That world, half-forgotten and caught between eras, evokes the sense of longing that informs much of her work.
Mahmudova's artwork has been shown in important exhibitions in Europe, including the MAXXI Museum in Rome, in the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow and at Philips de Pury & Company in London. She is showing a monumental landscape 17- metre-long canvas at Exploring Inward.
BUTA Festival London:
From October 2014 to November 2015 BUTA Arts Festival will be showcasing everything from the ancient skills of Azerbaijani carpet making to the creativity of the country's contemporary photographers, the unmistakable sounds of its jazz musicians, rarely heard orchestral work and the excitement of live performances in the medium of modern immersive theatre.
In addition to the exciting musical schedule, the festival also involves cutting edge contemporary art exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery and Louise Blouin Foundation and artists from the Yarat Contemporary Art Space will display their work in public locations across London.
The Buta Festival 2015 will provide a window to the Azeri Arts in London offering unique insights into a country that is arousing our curiosity.