YARAT opens its art center with new exhibitions

By: Nigar Orujova

YARAT Contemporary Art Center has opened in Baku with an exhibition of Shirin Neshat called The Home of My Eyes.

This is a major new commission, produced following the artist’s time in Azerbaijan and also includes two of Neshat’s earlier works, the seminal video installations Soliloquy (1999) and Passage (2001) and is guest curate by Dina Nasser-Khadivi.

Neshat’s work explores the complexities of cultural identity, gender and power to express a vision that embraces Persian traditions and contemporary concepts of individuality.

In her recent photographic work, the artist who lives and works in New York, has focused on the portrait as a prism to reveal the cultural dynamics and personal histories of her subjects, exploring the narratives that can be ‘read’ in an individual.

This new commission, The Home of My Eyes (2015), builds on Neshat’s growing interest in portraiture. During her time spent in Azerbaijan in 2014, she photographed over fifty individuals who came from communities across the country, ranging from two to eighty years old.

While taking the photographs, Neshat asked participants a series of questions regarding their cultural identity and their concept of home. The resulting responses are written in calligraphy overlaying the portraits. The assembled images make up a monumental installation, which fills two entire walls of one of the eleven meter-high exhibition galleries of YARAT Contemporary Art Centre, a converted Soviet-era naval building.

“I consider the new series of images a portrait of a country that has for so long been a crossroads for many different ethnicities, religions, and languages. This series combines fifty-five portraits of men and women from different generations to create a tapestry of human faces which pays tribute to the rich cultural history of Azerbaijan and its diversity,” Shirin Neshat explains.

The opening ceremony was attended by rector of the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Arts Omer Eldarov, chairman of the Writers’ Union of Azerbaijan Anar, world-known artist Tahir Salahov, Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfas Garayev, Minister of Youth and Sports Azad Rahimov, Rector of Baku branch of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, head of UNS Theatre, corresponding member of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, PhD Nargiz Pashayeva, Founder and Creative Director of YARAT Contemporary Art Space Aida Mahmudova.

The event also attracted Dean at Central Saint Martins with responsibility for the Art, Culture and Drama Mark Dunhill, Art Director of Moscow State Contemporary Arts Leonid Bazhanov, heads of “Cosmoscow” Contemporary Arts International Fair Margarita Pushkina and Sandra Nedvetskaya, curator for the Middle East and Northern Africa of “Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative” Project Sara Raza, director general of “Art finans” company and vice president of “Gazprombank” Mariya Sitnina, director for exhibitions and collections at the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, Australia, Varenne Olivier, director of London-based ICONGallery Jonathan Watkins, as well as public, culture and art figures, and representatives of the diplomatic mission.

Shirin Neshat, an Iranian-born artist, is widely acclaimed for her powerful video installations and photographs. Neshat’s work frequently refers to the social, cultural and religious codes of societies and the dynamics of certain oppositions, creating stark visual contrasts through motifs such as light and dark, black and white and male and female.

She became internationally recognized in 1999 when her film Turbulent won the international prize at the Venice Biennale and, in the following year, she was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London.

The artist has received a number of prizes, including the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum, Davos 2014, the Grand Prix of the Biennale in Korea 2000, and the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice International Film Festival for her first feature-length film Women Without Men in 2008.

Neshat’s work has been shown worldwide in group and solo exhibitions, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, 2013; the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2013; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2011; the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, 2006; Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, 2002; National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, 2001; Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, 2000; and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, 1998. She has participated in major biennales including Venice, Sydney, Johannesburg, Istanbul and the Whitney Biennale. She has also participated in film festivals including the Chicago International Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival.

The opening of the center was also marked with an exhibition from YARAT’s permanent collection, including work by artists from the Caucasus, Central Asia and neighboring countries, alongside work by international artists whose work resonates with Azerbaijan.

The collection itself has been accumulated over the past three years and will continue to grow, in part through special commissions for exhibitions at YARAT Contemporary Art Space curated by Suad Garayeva.