During my first weeks in my new position as a junior curator at YARAT I have interviewed local artists to get an insight about their concerns. The outcome is the upcoming exhibition “You don’t understand me” at ARTIM. It not only wants to engage with artist’s opinions on contemporary art but also creates a social media discussion.
The art world has become international. Thus it can happen that curators like me can work in a country where they do not even speak the local language. For me this throws up many questions. Rather than delivering a ready-made concept for my first exhibition in Azerbaijan that would be based on my first, probably touristy, impressions, I tried to find a sensitive approach and came up with the idea of interviewing local artists. I wanted to find out their point of view and what issues they are coping with. The questions in the first place analyse the relationship between the artist and the curator, since this was the point I was primarily interested in as a freshly arrived curator in a new cultural environment.
„I’m still looking for an answer“
The basic questions turned out to be not so easy. “I’m still looking for an answer” Samir Salahov told me very honestly when I asked him what he considers as a good artwork. For Ali Hasanov the task of evaluating what good or bad art is, is up to curators or art historians. As an artist, he does not judge but produces works. The emotional component is an important quality criteria for Ramal Kazimov either generating positive or negative feelings. Also for Nazrin Mammadova art becomes interesting “if it moves you and if it has some sort of power”. For Mahmud Rustamov in contrast the academic background of the artist is an important criteria for a good artist “today every second person considers himself as an artists, that is weird.”
„Every artist is a whole separate planet“
A good exhibition for Farhad Farzaliyev is the one that initiates a debate and that does not just disappear without leaving traces. Agil Abdullayev likes experimental exhibition approaches, and Samir and Nazrin agree. Although the works are very important, an experimental concept can upgrade weaker works. For Mahmud this questions seems to be a very easy one, a good exhibition is the one that attracts a big audience. Regarding the collaboration with curators, Nazrin differentiates various categories: “sometimes curators come because they are already looking for something, some of them are artists themselves and do not have a clear idea. Curating is like collecting and collaging, every artist is a whole separate planet.” However she appreciates those relationships the most when the curator becomes her friend “who understands you. In this case everyone can get one from another.” „As there was not such a thing as a curator in Soviet times” Farhad explains “this is a kind of a new phenomenon, so I don’t have much experience with curators“.
„A curator is an artist who doesn’t produce works“
Another question addressed the topic if a curator is necessary to produce meaning. For Ali Hasanov, a curator is not absolutely necessary, as the artist can create the meaning by himself. For Farhad, the curatorial work is also not essential. However, he sees that a curator and the artist create a perfect symbiosis: „a curator is an artist who doesn’t make works, an artist knows how to implement things but sometimes not in which direction. In the 21st century, when so much information is provided, one can easily get lost. A curator can help you to find a way out of this confusion“. Ramal compares the artist to a piano player who wants to be part of the orchestra, and the curator is a kind of conductor who sets the tone to make everything sound harmonically. Some of the artists like Agil also mentioned the restrictions the artist has to cope with. This does not only relate to a curator-artist relationship, but in general when you work within a frame, be it a gallery, museum or an independent space. „You can basically give people what they want but you don’t have to push yourself to change your own way.“
„To understand me“
Many of the artists did not have any expectations from the curator, if so then it was a simple and clear statement: „to understand me“. On the other hand I was interested if the artists feel they have to fit in a certain scheme of the contemporary art world. For Agil this is absolutely the case „We live in a fast changing world. Just after one year iPhone7 was released, earlier we kept a mobile phone for five years, now we change it every year. The art world is also changing very fast, you need to keep up with this contemporary art world.“ „It is a kind of game,“ explains Nazrin “some artists would die for working with certain curators. It became a kind of sport. But then it comes to the point of definition what kind of artist you are and what you are looking for. I prefer if things come to you naturally.“
After the camera was switched off
Even if I had the questionnaire, the most important and interesting part occurred in the discussion after the camera was switched off and the artists were freely talking about their concerns. I realized that there was a certain frustration about a lack of inspiration and creative exchange that resulted from a supposedly small art circle of the same people. Thus some of the artists are considering to go abroad. Another reason is that many felt misunderstood and do not see any reason to show their works to the local audience as anyways “they do not understand”. For me it is interesting that the concept of being understood or misunderstood seems to be a reoccurring and highly emotional and relevant issue not only within the art world. It raises much more questions related to psychological and sociological topics: Why do we want to be understood? Is it not enough to understand ourselves? Why also do have the others to understand us? Is it about social inclusion or exclusion? Once a good friend told me going through a similar frustration: “I realized that I am just very complex and it’s difficult for the others to understand me. So I do not expect them to understand, it’s not their responsibility”. Probably this is an attitude that accepts the uniqueness of everyone’s perception rather than opposing one‘s own world’s view onto the other. On the other hand it creates an unbiased atmosphere of dialogue and finally may be even of mutual understanding.
Anna Fech, October 2016