Shirin Melikova: "Absheron made a huge contribution to the art"

By Vestnik Kavkaza
Shirin Melikova: "Absheron made a huge contribution to the art"

Baku will host the 5th International Symposium of Azerbaijani Carpets In October of 2017. Meanwhile, Baku and Moscow celebrate the 110th anniversary of Latif Kerimov - founder of the State Museum of Azerbaijani Rugs and Applied-Folk Arts (Azerbaijan Carpet Museum), an outstanding scientist and carpet designer, founder of carpet weaving science, teacher, author of fundamental scientific work 'Azerbaijani Rug'. An exhibition, organized in the framework of cooperation between Azerbaijan Carpet Museum and Russian Museum of Decorative-Applied and Folk Art, will begin on November 17. Latif Kerimov's sketches, carpets and rugs, made based on his sketches, photos and documents stored in the personal archive of the artist will be demonstrated during it. Azerbaijan Carpet Museum's director Shirin Melikova discussedthis and other areas of Russian-Azerbaijani humanitarian cooperation in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.

- What can you say about current state of Azerbaijan's modern art?

- The dynamic of cultural life in Azerbaijan is wonderful. We open new museums, historic monuments are being restored, collections are replenished. The Heydar Aliyev Center's building, which was designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, hosts unprecedented exhibitions, visited by world-famous stars. For the first time ever Azerbaijani audience has an opportunity to see works of famous international artists, sculptors and photographers in their own country. I'm talking about exhibitions of Andy Warhol, George Condo, Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon.

Another masterpiece of our city is Carpet Museum's building, which was opened in 2014. It was created by the decree of President Ilham Aliyev. It is a joint project of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan and UNESCO. Museum building was designed by Austrian architect Franz Janz. It has a unique architectural design - it was built in the form of carpet. This is a unique opportunity to exhibit the richest collection of Azerbaijani carpets and rugs. Here, we can present our national heritage at the highest level.

In 2015, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation created Art Museum, which displays works of Soviet and modern artists. We can trace this link - the influence of old masters on the works of modern masters.

- How will Moscow celebrate Latif Kerimov's 110th anniversary?

- Starting from November 16 we begin a large project with the Russian Museum of Decorative-Applied and Folk Art. Presentation of the book "Latif Kerimov's Works from the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum Collection" will be held on November 17. This book contains sketches and carpets, created by Latif Kerimov, as well as previously unpublished photos, documents and letters, stored in personal archive of his family. On November 16-18, in the framework of a multi-year comprehensive program "Legacy of the Commonwealth. Traditions for the Future", a conference "The Carpet Weaving Art" will held. It is organized by the Russian Museum of Decorative-Applied and Folk Art with the organizational support of the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum and the Russian National Committee of the International Council of Museum (ICOM). It is expected that this conference will be attended by delegations from leading museums of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Its main topic - current problems of preservation, presentation, restoration and conservation of carpets and textiles.

- The exhibition of Azerbaijani artists of 1960-1980's 'Absheron Constellation' recently opened on the Crimean Val. How the idea of this exhibition was born?

- It was prepared for a year. The idea was born in 2015, when we opened the Azerbaijani national pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. At the time we presented selected works of avant-garde artists. We showed works of Javad Mirjavadov, Rasim Babayev, Tofiq Cavadov, Ashraf Murad and sculptures of Fazil Najafov It was like a bridge, a link between generations. The exhibition was a huge success, there were many positive reviews.

These artists were not represented in the world enough, both private collectors and curators of major museums knew little about them. And then, in Europe, people saw their world - a bright, fascinating, addictive by this riot of colors, incredible expression of feelings and emotions. We received many letters and reviews. There were many people who wanted to buy these works. But the works of these artists are kept in major national collections. It's a miracle that many of them still exist today. They were not exhibited at one time, no one could purchase them, they were passed from hand to hand, so a small part of these works exists today. 

So we decided to show this exhibition in Moscow. The State Tretyakov Gallery and the Marjani Foundation offered the Heydar Aliyev Foundation to organize a major exhibition. It was decided to expand the limits of this exhibition and show more artists, reveal collection of the Tretyakov Gallery, which have beautiful works, masterpieces of Azerbaijani artists, which were exhibited at the Soviet Union exhibitions. At that time, the best works were sent to such events, they were selected at the national exhibitions in specific republics. So now an extremely valuable collection of Azerbaijani art masterpieces from the Soviet period is kept in the Tretyakov Gallery collection. It would be great to show at least some of these works.

- How were these works selected? 

- At first there was a huge number of works. But after some time we began to create the exposition and the concept of this exhibition, wishing to show different sides of this period's art. To some degree, we wanted to dispel the myth that there were clear boundaries between avant-garde and official art. In Soviet times, people like Sattar Bahlulzade and Togrul Narimanbekov were well-known artists, and they all were connected, they were raised in the same culture, inspired by the same common roots. Native, beloved Absheron was an inspiration for them. Javad Mirjavadov said that art should be studied only in Absheron, amid these cyclopean mountains, amid immense blue sky and emerald Caspian Sea. If the painting looks great amid mountains, with skies and sea on the background, it's a success, because what we can feel in the workshop can't be compared to what we can feel in nature, in the open air. Mirjavadov also said that art should blend in with the nature.

- What makes Absheron school different from others?

- Absheron made a huge contribution to the art. We can see charming Absheron, like an eternally blooming oasis, in the works of Sattar Bahlulzade. Another Absheron - a celebration of life, a riot of colors - was created by Togrul Narimanbekov. Javad Mirjavadov with his archetypal images creates completely different works. For example, one of his works - "Firefighters", which we presented at this exhibition, those are also images of Absheron. In the early 1920s it was covered with wooden towers, where fires sometimes happened. Entire oil lakes and these towers were burning, fire trucks rushed there. The artist saw that as a child and these images are reflected in his paintings. Rasim Babayev is also Absheron artist. All these artists loved their land, their culture, they had national spirit, knew national poetry, quoted works of Azerbaijani medieval poets - Fizuli, Nizami Ganjavi. Exquisite culture of the East, beauty of carpets, ornamental culture, magnificent manuscripts, miniatures school - all of this had a great influence on the formation of their artistic style. On the other hand, they were also influenced by what they received in Russia, by learning in major universities of Moscow and Leningrad, by studying European art in wonderful Russian museums. Mirjavad studied French art in the Hermitage. One of his favorite artists was Cezanne, he also loved the art of Oceania, Africa. All of that found a syncretic unity in his art. It's really great.

- You mentioned the works that were almost lost. What specific works did you mean?

- Tofiq Cavadov's "Oil Workers" was painted in late 1950s. This is one of the most significant works not only for this artist, but also for the Azerbaijani art as a whole.

His works were not exhibited during his lifetime, they were forgotten, and the artist himself was removed from the artistic life of the country. "Oil Workers" was passed from hand to hand for 50 years, stored in various workshops, in the mosque. Only in 2007, folded four times and basically in crumbles, it was removed from the piles of restoration garbage and restored. In 2009 it was presented to the public at the Museum of Modern Art in Baku. Right now it is a part of a permanent exhibition of the museum.