Critics’ Picks

Shoja Azari, The King of Black, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 24 minutes.

Shoja Azari, The King of Black, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 24 minutes.


“Love Me, Love Me Not”

Heydar Aliyev Center
1 Heydar Aliyev Avenue
April 3–May 25, 2014

Organized by the nonprofit YARAT Contemporary Art, this exhibition debuted in the arsenal of last year’s Venice Biennial and is now on view in the futuristic Zaha Hadid–designed Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan. The show’s curator, Dina Nasser-Khadivi, has gathered works by sixteen artists—from Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Georgia—some of whom currently live in New York or London, and the artists’ homelands are a main theme in all the works.

Aida Mahmudova, founder of YARAT, presents her sculpture Recycled, 2012–13—made with ornamentally crafted mirrors that produce a dizzying play of shadows. The work alludes to the relationship between memory and modernization. Farid Rasulov also conjoins tradition and the present day. His Untitled #4, 2013, refers to rapid architectural changes—the work brutally clamps glass ornaments made for windows between concrete slabs—in a powerful image for Baku, where so many traditional houses have been destroyed for high-rise apartment buildings. In this institution’s curved walls and vast open spaces, Rasolov’s sculptures emphasize all the more the ever-narrowing space for customs.

In his film The King of Black, 2013, the Iranian artist Shoja Azari takes up the “Seven Beauties,” a poem by Nizami Ganjavi, which dates from 1197. In it, a king tries to fathom the cause of suffering and is seduced by beauty into paradise, where his impatience leads to his expulsion. The actors are dressed in contemporary clothing, while the backdrops are painted in the tradition of Persian miniatures, which creates a strange timelessness. Azari’s film is an allegory of the manipulation of pleasure. Here, as in the rest of the works on view, there is not an explicit political or geographic connotation, but rather there is an appreciation for the currency that common roots and traditions—as a centralizing, driving force—have today.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.