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Fly to Baku
Sabina Metcalf

On January 17th, Howick Place, an enchanting red-brick Victorian building in a sophisticated neighbourhood of London, opened its doors to a variety of contemporary art of Azerbaijan. The country's 21 leading creative talents presented their work in the Fly to Baku Exhibition, hosted by auction house Phillips de Pury, and curated by the prominent art consultant Herve Mikaeloff. The exhibition was organised by Leyla Aliyeva (vice-president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and daughter of Ilham Aliyev, the current Azerbaijani President), whose work also formed part of the exhibition. 

The exhibition is skillfully arranged to echo the cultural and historical background of the country deeply rooted in various traditions of Oriental folklore and Soviet realism – a combination that heavily influenced the development of contemporary art in Baku. Here, intricate illustrations of Azerbaijani fairy tales by Leyla Aliyeva echo the delicate patterns of Oriental tapestry with minute splashes of vibrant colour, while extremely vocal and grandiloquent pieces by Tora Aghabayova are reminiscent of Socialist realism, a style of art developed under the Soviet rule and prevalent in many post-communist societies. 
Long after the collapse of the Soviet Union some twenty years ago, the country has recently begun to emerge as one of the cutting-edge destinations for world arterati. Abundant energy resources have not only ascertained Azerbaijan’s position as an influential player in the game of geopolitics, but have also given the nation a new cultural verve. The founding of the Buta Art Centre in 2005 aimed at promoting and celebrating the Azeri culture and the opening of the Baku Museum of Modern Art with more than 800 exhibits in 2009 have transformed the city into an effervescent show-ground for contemporary art. Fly to Baku presents some of the best talent that the country’s vibrant art scene currently has to offer. 
Deciding to Fly to Baku, you commit yourself to a fascinating journey over a vibrant landscape of contemporary art ranging from photographs and paintings to sculptures, video recordings and installations. Each piece is captivating; combined, these works transport us to the ‘City of Wind’ (Persian name for Baku). Here, the cold and rough Khazri – the northerly wind, brings you the thought-provoking works of Huseyn Haqverdi, who unites as a montage, different monochromatic shades into an angular composition. The warm southerly wind – Gilavar, shows you philosophical ruminations and vibrant reds in the “Still Life”, a series by Melik Aghamalov, and evokes the sounds of polychromatic symphonies in the art of lawyer-turned-artist Rashad Babayev, whose striking works are deeply saturated with symbolism and inspired by spirituality and inner growth. 
Once you have experienced the juxtaposition of north and south, cold and warmth that pervades through Baku's visual art, your flight culminates in the fascinating installations of Rashad Alakbarov, one of which is made of plexiglass toy airplanes hanging at different heights like a colourful mobile. With a light cascading its way through the planes, an astonishing image is then created on a large screen behind – it is the indistinguishable outline of a city occupying the western peninsular of the Caspian Sea. The city swept by winds, enchanted by graphical art and visual emotions, and harmonised by its local bohemia and its oil bourgeoise. Fly to Baku at Howick Place, London, is by far the most enchanting way to visit the city.
Fly to Baku: Contemporary Art from Azerbaijan runs through January 17-29 at Philips de Pury & Company, Howick Place, London SW1.


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