The Pavilion of Azerbaijan at the 54th International Art Exhibition la Biennale di Venezia. Interview with Aidan Salakhova

The Pavilion of Azerbaijan at the 54th International Art Exhibition la Biennale di Venezia. Interview with Aidan Salakhova by Ilari Valbonesi.

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Aidan Salakhova graduated in 1987 from Moscow’s Surikov Art Institute, and quickly became an important artist in the new generation emerging as the USSR collapsed. In 1989, Ms Salakhova was co-founder of First Gallery, the USSR’s first contemporary art gallery. It functioned until 1992 when Ms Salakhova opened her very own gallery, Aidan Gallery. Over the past two decades, Aidan Gallery has been a main pillar of Russia’s contemporary art scene. Nevertheless, Aidan herself remained an artist, often working with gender themes and Islam. As an artist, Ms Salakhova is represented by XL Gallery in Moscow. Though born in Moscow, Ms Salakhova is of Azerbaijani descent. Her father, Tair Salakhov, is a leading artist in post-War Russia.

Living and working in Moscow and Baku, Aidan Salakhova’s work concepts in the last two decades of Moscow art scene demonstrates a steady approach to the criticism of women’s position within the dogmas and dichotomies of stale traditions and convictions. The veil has been the leading metaphor in her recent work; in drawings, paintings, photography and now as sculpture. The veil has been a subject matter for many artists since the 90’s; mostly immigrant women artists from Islamic countries. It was used as an element to question the oppression of women in the Islamic world in juxtaposition to the liberty in the Christian and to reveal the diverse identities, even power and eroticism behind this ‘covering’. Salakhova’s series of paintings of veiled figures and the three marble semi-abstract figures present us with a different perspective on this phenomenon. The knowledge behind her depicted form is Orthodox Christianity, the religion of the country she is living in. Religion has not been a significant matter in her life, having grown up in an ideological system in which religion was not a political tool and being a liberal daughter of an artist father. Yet, during the age she is living in now, religion has become a key element in world politics and this ambiguous game of exploiting women is being played out over the women’s bodies and souls. Her work addresses political, sociological, psychological and spiritual dimensions in both Islamic and Orthodox worlds through depicting the veil, a symbol of religious oppression but also a stereotype of Orientalism. She addresses Christian and Islamic societies to confront and to deconstruct the ambiguous meanings of this dark cloth. In the formulation of her statement she uses an archaic poetic visual language which relates to Islamic miniatures and Byzantine icons. The series of black veiled women is in one way highly reminiscent of The Virgin of Vladimir, the 14th century icon in the Tretiakoff Gallery, Moscow. In anoother way, however, they refer to the stereotypical Orientalist photographs of veiled women. These exquisite figurations with smooth black surfaces on golden backgrounds also have atmospheric eroticism created with the delicate gestures regarding matters of concealment and exposure of female sexuality. Her work of three reliefs abstractly rendering veiled figures with symbolic relics in their hands, the related teardrops referring to the sensitivity, grief and joy, and six of her exquisite miniature based paintings are installed in one of the rooms of the Palazzo. The ceiling figures of this room are intervened with black bands as an implication to the deep rooted prohibitions within the religious convictions. (Beral Madra’ text in catalogue)

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