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Azerbaijan Pavilion
Biennale Arte 2024

Curatorial text


The invitation to curate the Azerbaijan Pavilion at the La Biennale di Venezia came as an unexpected and welcome surprise. Since curating the Italy pavilion in 2009 I have not accepted other offers to work on collateral events – until now. But it was with great pleasure that I accepted curatorship of the Azerbaijan Pavilion.


The opportunity extended was so exceptional, promising truly remarkable stimuli for an art curator. First of these was the possibility of learning about the art and culture of an emerging state, a republic new to me but whose history – in the 20th century alone – has been through such complex phases. Then, of course was the challenge of coming to terms with Foreigners Everywhere, the theme of the 60th edition of La Biennale di Venezia, as selected by its director Adriano Pedrosa. This would be from a perspective extending beyond the centrality of the western world to further investigate the sensation of “otherness” that we all carry within us, in spite of the need for strong roots and communities. For artists, this tension seems to be a necessity, their pivotal stance often triggering an explosion of free creativity.

A visit to Azerbaijan certainly provides a context for the creativity of the country’s artists. The capital, Baku, is itself a contemporary metropolis, historically arisen out of a desert. Its architecture alone presents a futuristic skyline surrounding a fascinatingly well-preserved and UNESCO-listed medieval inner city. The futuristic gem of the 21st century is surely the Heydar Aliyev Center, where I met the three artists presented here. Designed by Zaha Hadid and brought to life from 2007, it is probably one of the most impressive cultural centers on the planet, although even this claim doesn’t quite do it justice, because the space has a versatile, multiple character that incorporates art in brilliantly sweeping architectural solutions. Its visual impact alone delivers an alternative to the canons of contemporary architecture, and a new concept in design for modern cultural venues.

It was within this Center that I met Amina Melikova, co-curator of this exhibition and the three artists selected to represent Azerbaijan at the La Biennale di Venezia, all with different backgrounds and experiences. 

Their works have been grouped here for their diversity in representing their country’s material culture, in various media from modernist painting to an installation featuring both advanced technology and traditional craft.

The exhibition has an intriguing title: From Caspian to Pink Planet: I Am Here – a compendium of the titles of the works presented by the three artists. Here is the local sea sourcing oil, a philosophical view of the planet, even Hollywood, as East meets West, but on reflection, and in response to Foreigners Everywhere, the definitive statement I Am Here.

Vusala Agharaziyeva, the younger of these artists, lives some three hours by car from the capital, in a place she has transformed into a community for artists, offering residencies. She draws inspiration from her own personal experience to explore the theme of extraneousness, which is pertinent to Azerbaijan with a history shaped by the dynamics of migration, whether enforced or for trade. In her large painting Pink Planet, the artist imagines a science fiction scenario, referencing illustrations from futuristic literature of the 1950s and 1960s.

Interpreted through a variety of media, including painting, sculpture and digital installations, the journeys that have shaped her background are a constant in the narration, echoing the sensation of feeling like an outsider within one’s own existence, glimpsed here in the act of disembarking in surreal extra-terrestrial landscapes steeped in vivid shades of pink.

Rashad Alakbarov, born in 1979, concentrates on sculpture and installations. Renowned in Azerbaijan for his works in light and shadow, he also has previous experience of La Biennale di Venezia; exhibiting here several times.

At first glance, the site-specific installation I Am Here appears as a labyrinthine group of walls, but when observed from a different perspective, in a mirror placed high on the front wall, the title becomes clearly visible. This confirms what in Rashad is almost a cultural debt to the theories of perception at the heart of the Kinetic Art of the 1970s. Each letter of the phrase I Am Here, formed from sections of traditional Azerbaijani carpets, forcefully asserts its own existence; the here and now.

His work refers to mirrors and walls as elements of architecture and as metaphors of the individual, accentuating the bond between people and the places they inhabit.

Irina Eldarova, born in Moscow in 1955, works on drawing and painting. A cinephile, she has, above all, many stories to tell, in a lightly ironic approach that is never banal., she has been creating, for a number of years now, a kind of work in progress, producing new episodes, quite like a television series. The paintings of Girls Prefer Oilmen combine her own personal history, as one who has often changed her place of residence across countries, cultures and habits, with the imagery of American movies and the phenomenon of star worship that forced its way across the boundaries erected during the Cold War between two global superpowers.


Raised in Russia and attracted by dialogue between different cultures and traditions, Irina identifies the move to Azerbaijan as a crucial point in her life. In her witty and colorful paintings, in a rather more European than American Pop style, she tells an imagined love story – that of a worker on a Caspian Sea oil rig and Marilyn Monroe. It is a perceptively painted story that captures the various stereotypes of popular fiction.

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