Azeri Art @ Gazelli

Amongst dozens of white-cube style Mayfair galleries filled with contemporary, modern and old-master art that predominantly originates from Europe and North America, one of the exhibition spaces has been taken over by work from a location that does not often become part of the conversation of the London art scene. her shey qayidacaq* at Gazelli Art House comprises the work of four artists, most of whom are from Azerbaijan. Across two floors, installation, photography and painting introduces the viewer to Central Asian landscapes, traditions and history.

Untitled I, Aida Mahmudova, 2017, mixed technique on canvas, 150 x 250 cm and Untitled 6, Aida Mahmudova, 2017, mixed technique on canvas, 200 x 300 cm. Image courtesy Gazelli Art House.

The Azeri saying her shey qayidacaq translates into English as what comes around, goes around, and is a reference to the cyclical patterns of history and its effect on regional development and national identity. If identity is connected to the land then this is explored on a grand scale in the work of Aida Mahmudova. Her large mixed-media paintings welcome the viewer into the gallery, providing them with a guided tour of the Azeri landscape in which mountainous rocky forms emerge against vast seas and colourful fields of greens. Untitled 1, mixed technique on canvas, 2017 and Untitled 6, mixed technique on canvas, 2017, are heavily textured and richly coloured, presenting an image of Azerbaijan that is both awe-inspiring in its beauty, but powerful in its evocation of extreme weather, particularly in their inclusion of black jewel-like clouds and the ferocity of her blue and red brush strokes.

Goy Gol, Mikayil Abdullayev, 1971, oil on canvas, 80 x 140 cm. Image courtesy Gazelli Art House.

On display alongside Mahmudova’s recent paintings are the somewhat calmer works of Gennadiy Brijatyuk and Mikayil Abdullayev, whose oil paintings of the 1970s and 1980s illustrate a much more peaceful picture of Azerbaijan. While Mahmudova’s works are highly energised and suggest a volatile relationship with her land, particularly in works like Glow, mixed technique on canvas, 2015, where a thick red tumour-like dollop of paint has been planted against a bottle-green landscape that lies beneath a black sky, these older paintings evoke a sense of unflappability. Abdullayev is one of Central Asia’s most renowned Impressionist painters. Famous for his dedication to his homeland, he is quoted as describing his affection to his birthplace saying: “I do not tire of singing your beauty on the canvas as your child, your love.” Thus Goy Gol (The Blue Lake), oil on canvas, 1971, is a gentle reflection of untouched nature, free of any human interference. In Little Afghan, oil on canvas, 1969, he illustrates a young boy in traditional costume, celebrating folk history and rural life.

Mardakan, Gennadiy Brijatyuk, 1986, oil on canvas, 80 x 120 cm, Temporary Monument N7: O Pairado (Moscow), Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich, 2017, Acrylic photo print on aluminium dibond backing (3mm) framed in traditional wood and plywood frame with magnets, 70.4 x 230.5 cm and Little Aghan, Mikayil Abdullayev, 1969, oil on canvas, 60 x 42 cm. Image courtesy Gazelli Art House.

Illustrations of Azeri towns are also painted in Gennadiy Brijatyuk’s View of Baku, oil on canvas, 1978 and Mardakan, oil on canvas 1986, whose works belong to the Absheron School of dissident art that is known for its experimentation with colour and texture. Unlike Abdullayev’s smooth images, Brijatyuk’s work is a little coarser and more daring in colour, moving away from direct representation, and incorporating a sense of feeling and emotion in his use of deep reds and bright blues.

As a point of contrast to the painting-heavy show, Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich changes the mood with his photographic installations. Of his three works on display, the two-dimensional Temporary Monument N7: O Pairado (Moscow), acrylic photo print on aluminium dibond back, 2017, being representational in form, it is most similar to the rest of the canvases. The panels correspond to a film of the same title: Temporary Monument N7: O Pairado (Moscow), video, 2017. The two works reflect a 7-hour perfroamce that took place at the Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow. During the act of endurance on October 16th 2017, seven temporary monuments (one of which is here in London) corresponded to seven episodes of suffering of slaves. Pavlov-Andreevich’s project is an attempt “to delineate a collective slave who continues to dwell in one’s head and in one’s body.” Across three panels we see tall red cranes that have been covered in white cyrillic graffiti. The writing reads “freedom to the slaves” and the artist lifted himself from the crane during his performance. The artwork is an act in defence of the over one million slaves of Central Asian origin in Russia.

Why Is The Hair Grey, But The Beard – Black, Fyodor Pavlov-Andreevich, 2017, Site specific installation and performance. Image courtesy Gazelli Art House.

Pavlov-Andreevich’s Why Is The Hair Grey, But The Beard – Black, site specific installation and performance, 2017, also asks questions about the human experience. Under what can only described as a white, elongated, t-shirt like shaped hammock suspended from the ceiling in the far corner of the downstairs gallery is a projection of a nude man, crouching to the ground with his head in his hands in a state of despair. The performative piece is based on an ancient Tajik-Afghan tale that convinces the listener that there are questions in the world that are not and cannot be answered. The man in the corner is supposed to represent questions relating to the state of masculine power in the world, whereby the modern Muslim man is often portrayed as aggressive and pictured dressed in a certain, unconventional way. To subvert this, the figure projected in the installation is stripped of his clothing, vulnerable and bare, hiding from the viewer’s gaze.

If anything, this show should certainly be seen sheerly to make up for the lack of Central Asian art in London. Spanning almost half a century, and across multiple forms of media, the work introduces a British audience to modern art and traditions from Azerbaijan,

her shey qayidacaq* is on display until 11th March 2018 at Gazelli Art House, 30 Dover Street, London W1S 4NN

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy recently curated Perpetual Movement as part of Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2018 in London, which was featured in Vogue Arabia and The Art Newspaper.

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