Ornamentation. The Azerbaijan Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale


The Republic of Azerbaijan is the largest country of the Caucasus region of Eurasia. The country is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to the south. It is well known for its crude oil and natural gas reserves.

The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR) was established on May 28, 1918, and That entity, however, existed only for 23 months as it was invaded and incorporated into the Soviet Union by the Red Army under the name Azerbaijan SSR. Calls for independence and secession, which culminated in the Black January, led to the restoration of the ADR’s flag as state flag, and the modern Republic of Azerbaijan emerged as a successor to Azerbaijan SSR on October 18, 1991.

The word “Āzar” (Persian: آذر‎) means Fire and baijan was originally rendered as “Pāyegān” (Persian: پایگان‎), meaning Guardian/Protector (Āzar Pāyegān = “Guardians of Fire”) (Persian: آذر پایگان‎). The country is therefore now referred to as “the land of fire” by the curator of the exhibition in his curatorial statement.

For the country’s national participation in the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, six contemporary artists from Baku have presented works that respond to the theme of ‘ornamentation’. The exhibition is curated by Hervé Mikaeloff, who received Les Insignes de Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture in 2011. The pavilion was commissioned by Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Azerbaijan, in collaboration with the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Italy.

As the curator Hervé Mikaeloff states, ornamentation is a very important aspect of Azerbaijan’s culture, in fact, it is THE MAIN aspect.The linear characteristic of the ornament as idea of the infinity of life has always been present in the history of Azerbaijan’s art. Decorative arts have been the focus of the country’s culture since the Paleolithic, starting with rock paintings.

Geometric shapes and patterns were widely used and have been transmitted to contemporary practice. Symmetry, geometry, ornamental patterns all carried, and still carry, a symbolism tied to tradition and culture. Different religions and traditions such as Zoroastrianism, Islam and Christianity highly influenced the culture and daily life has also been a constant source of inspiration for artists of all eras.

There is a high degree of stylisation and graphic patterns in every form of art from Azerbaijan, that can be seen from its traditional carpetry to its architecture.


The participating artists in “Ornamentation” are:

Rashad Alakbarov, born in Baku in 1979. He lives and works in Baku, Azerbaijan. He graduated from the Faculty of Decorative Arts at Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art in Baku in 2001. He works with different media, including painting, sculpture, theatre decoration, video art and architec­tural design. The use of shadows in his installations has become the main characteristic of the artist’s conceptual work.

Click here to read Rashad Alakbarov at the Azerbaijan Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

Fakhriyya Mammadova, born in Baku in 1974. She lives and works in Baku, Azerbaijan. She graduated from the Design Faculty of the Azer­baijan State Academy of Fine Art in Baku in 2005.She is an artist, designer and photographer and does restoration on ceramics and sculpture and experiments with macro-photography.

Click here to read Wedding: Girlish Dreams. Fakhriyya Mammadova at the Azerbaijan Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

Chingiz, born in Baku in 1964. He lives and works in Baku, Azerbaijan. He graduated with an MFA degree from the Azerbaijan State University of Fine Arts in 1991. He is a conceptual artist working with sculpture, painting, graphic art, photography, video, installations, performance, design, prose and poetry and philosophy. Through his work, he researches social, political and historical issues in an urban context.

Click here to read Blank History. Chingiz at the Azerbaijan Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

Sanan Aleskerov, born in Baku in 1956. He lives and works in Baku, Azerbaijan. He is now working with documentary photography and his work includes projects that observe urban, social and visual changes in cities and landscapes.

Click here to read Transparency of Simplicity. Sanan Aleskerov at the Azerbaijan Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

Bunutay Hagverdiyev, born in Baku in 1989. He lives and works between Moscow, Russia and Baku, Azerbaijan. He graduated from Azimzadeh Art College, paining faculty in Baku in 2009. Since 2011, he studies at the British Higher School of Art and Design, University of Hertfordshire in Moscow. Butunay works in various media, including paint­ing, graphics, video art, animation and installation.

Click here to read Unilateral Letters. Bunutay Hagverdiyev at the Azerbaijan Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

Farid Rasulov, born in Baku in 1985. He graduated from Azerbaijan State Medical University in 2006, but the following year he decided to step aside from medicine and started to actively engage with contemporary art, a decision that led to his participation in the 53rd Venice Biennale. He works in various media, including paint­ing, 3-D graphics, animation, sculpture and installation.

Click here to read Carpet Interior. Farid Rasulov at the Azerbaijan Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

More posts to come soon about the artists and their work in the exhibition!

All photographs: view of Palazzo Lezze, Campo S. Stefano, San Marco, venue of the Azerbaijan Pavilion and entrance to the pavilion. Photos by C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia.

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