«Aφrasiya Style» — Azərbaycan Between East and West

When Prometheus steals fire from Olympus, Zeus condemns him to ceaseless punishment by chaining the thief of fire to the summit of Mount Caucasus where his tortured liver repeatedly grows back after being preyed upon by vultures each day. Prometheus “gifts” humanity with fire, and through the tears of the highland and mountain peoples (probably Caucasian Scythians), we obtain a fleeting glimpse of their appreciation. This story tells us much about the most important gift to civilization, and its blessed recipients. After all, the ever-burning Olympian fire is not just heat and flame, but also the heart (spirit) and the source of light (soul), for since antiquity fire was a sign of God’s elusive presence, which is why it was so ardently worshipped by Zoroastrians in Azərbaycan and Iran. Azərbaycan – the “land of fire,” the “keeper of the flame,” as its name implies, became a destination for pilgrimages to the fire’s ‘place of origin,’ especially because of sites such as Yanar Dağ (literally “burning mountain”) and the “eternal flame” at the Zoroastrian Atəşgah (fire temple) near Bakı (Baku). Maybe it was this “legacy” of the gift that prompted me to take a small flame from this infinite fire, and pass it on to contemporary societies; and, even though Azərbaycan’s fire is full of life, the country’s otherworldly landscapes are remarkably tranquil realms. As quietly as red autumn leaves snatched by a gust of wind, pieces of Bakı’s memories fall to the ground each day … in a silent display of the city’s tug of war between the old and the new.

Memory and time are two important themes in Azərbaycan’s collective identity – they are “unyielding phenomena” (Vahabova) that facilitate the unification of the East and the West, the “left and the right, the conformists and non-conformists, the archaists and innovators, here and now, at the present point at the present time,” which enables art to build bridges within the Eurasian worlds of the 21st century, by establishing closer bonds between “geo-cultural mentalities” of the Orient and the Occident, North and South. Concerning time, art critic Taymus Daimi maintains that following both paths gives modern cultures a chance to feed “on the invisible spiritual emanations of the historical past,” be it the ancient art of Gobustan, carpet design, or miniature painting on which Azərbaycan’s forms of visual expression are based. Their legacy of fire and ‘environmental mosaics’ – the country’s lush vegetation and flowing waters as symbol of aquatic luxury, delicious food and abundant fruit, ornate colorful carpets, glorious music, gardens and pavilions – manifest in many different ways: a ‘palette’ of brilliant deep colors; the flight to fantasy, where reality is transformed into (1) distorted/tilted, or (2) formally precise and exact geometric abstractions. As exhibition project “Azəri Modern” tries to offer a representative panoramic of a state-of-the-art Azərbaycan of the 21st century, while at the same time showing a rather nostalgic vision of the Bakı of my childhood with a special appeal to national (classical) myths and old legends.

The «Supăsuit» — Back to the Future of Azərbaycan

Until the late 20th century, ‘socialist realism’ remained the predominant style for Soviet art. The result, following Daimi, was the fabrication of a “hermetic,” isolated and sealed-off artistic expression, as well as a particular spiritual sterilization that he further defines as the “iron curtain factor.” Bakı today is a free-spirited city looking forward to the future, rather than establishing itself as a ‘shrouded, hermetic enclave.’ New open spaces arise from the battle between conformity and individualism (and, thus, the city constantly changes, evolves, and tries to ignite the sparks of innovation); an ‘Instant City’ no longer prevails. The city of Bakı acts like a second skin or ‘make-up’ for its denizens: it can be put on and taken off again. Thus, the link between environment/habitation and clothing/body becomes closer, dwelling and bodysuit fuse into a single median unit – the ambiguity of “clothed nakedness,” a ‘body make-up’ (see also Rudi Gernreich) which responds to the outside world (e.g., light, temperature, humidity, etc.) and allows for freedom in all isolation. At the core of this project lies the vision of an urban warrior in a classic yet future-oriented Azərbaycanı unisex suit of armor [“Supăsuit” – a Mavorswenera® original], which does not serve defensive purposes, but instead highlights a connection between habitation and the inhabitants of Bakı and Azərbaycan. – My conclusion is that in a time of religio-political imbalances, modern Azərbaycan and Caucasus present a rare opportunity for international (cultural) collaboration.

The State Flag:

The “Multicoloredness” (Pleochroism) of Azərbaycan

The color blue here represents infinity (∞), mercy (raḥma), and the all-encompassing ocean (Al-Qāmūs al-muḥīṭ), which is, in fact, second only to the all-surrounding sky (samāʾ), whose hue it takes on. Since blue is generally considered negative in the Muslim world, one tends to use the term “azure” (sapphire blue, turquoise) when describing all these shifting, shimmering colors of the sea, such as, for example, the Caspian Sea. In contrast to the coolness and freshness one can feel by running one’s hands through the water, “gules” (or ruby red) draws an obvious connection to the heat of Zarathustra’s fire that will “one day kindle the light of the future” (Nietzsche). But it also refers to the color of blood, velvet roses, wine, freshly plucked apples and pomegranates, rosy cheeks, and the “fiery hearts” of the Caucasians, which became a favorite topic among Persian poets. The color red bears witness to beauty (jamāl) and “love” (hubb) of the heart that has been transformed into a precious ruby of incalculable value through patience, openness, and compassion. Simultaneously, the now-famous Islamic “vert” (emerald green) is reminiscent of the “tree of life,” Azərbaycan’s lush vegetation, Bakı’s luxurious parks, often in explicit reference to the ideal picture of a paradisiacal garden. In Sufism, the ‘visio smaragdina’ – “the outburst of green” – represents a specific level of spiritual growth, while the light from the “Emerald Mountain” (Najm al-Dīn Kubrā) that lies even beyond the luminous black symbolizes God and Eternal Life itself.