An interview with Vice President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, initiator of IDEA campaign Leyla Aliyeva has been published in the last edition of Interview Magazine – a US-based magazine founded in late 1960s.
This publication is famous with its interviews and conversations with stars of the art world – painters, musicians and thinkers.
The themes of the conversation between Leyla Aliyeva and Simon de Pury were the exhibition of works of art, a new wave of architectural boom, as well as the environmental movement – all are distinctive features of the modern development of Azerbaijan.
Author: Simon de Pury (chairman and chief auctioneer of Phillips De Pury & Company, participated in the BRAVO TV series “The Work of Art”).
If you cannot go to Baku to see the modern post-soviet art, Leyla Aliyeva intends to present you a project that will grip the whole world
Azerbaijan is a country of avant-garde artists, fashion and art, environmental movement and a new wave of global architecture. This may or may not correspond to the stereotypes that occur in the West while mentioning the former Soviet republic, located partially in Eastern Europe, partly in Asia. But, as it became clear from the conversation, Leyla Aliyeva, 26-year-old editor, artist, activist and elder daughter of President Ilham Aliyev wants her country, in particular, the capital of Baku soon to challenge New York, Berlin and Tokyo for the right to be called the epicenter of the cultural world.
Leyla Aliyeva has in fact a lot of projects – films, charity events, campaigns for the rights of animals, youth actions, and sometimes it is difficult to understand how a mother of two children manage to cope with such a multi-faceted activity.
First, it is the international presentation of her magazine “Baku”, which Aliyeva began publishing in 2007 in Moscow. Through this magazine she intends to raise awareness of the international community about cultural events in the Azerbaijani capital, as well as create a platform for special projects in the field of culture and art. In October last year as editor in chief, Leyla Aliyeva, joined efforts with Condé Nast Publications in order to form interest in Azerbaijan and issue an international English-language version of the “Baku”. Soon, she plans to host a presentation on the occasion of the appearance of the April edition of the magazine “Baku” in American newsstands.
She also plans an exhibition of contemporary art “Fly to Baku,” which she helped to organize – an amazing eclectic show exhibition of 21 Azerbaijani painters and sculptors, videographers and photographers, working in the area of the Caspian Sea up to the Brooklyn. The exhibition was launched in January at the gallery of “Phillips de Pury” in London with plans to hold it throughout the world. Do not be surprised if in some of the works you will find pictures of Leyla Aliyeva, who despite a busy schedule finds time to implement her creative ideas, along with promoting the interests of Azerbaijan.
What are the chances of Azerbaijan to become the next world cultural center? Of course, Leyla Aliyeva is in a strong company with other bright and initiative young men, who in recent years managed to attract the attention of the art world to a variety of projects in their countries. Last year the Azerbaijani duo Ell / Nikki won the Eurovision with the song Running Scared. This is an impressive result for a country that has started to participate in the competition only four years ago. In May this year Baku will host “Eurovision” which will draw attention to the city and along with it to the artistic atmosphere, the promotion of which Aliyeva has made her mission. In London, Leyla Aliyeva met with Simon de Pury to discuss present and future projects implemented under her initiative.
Simon de Pury: How nice to see you at the opening of the exhibition “Fly to Baku”. I remember my wife Michaela and I were in Baku last summer at your invitation. We’ve never been to Baku earlier and had been there only 36 hours, during which we visited the studios of many artists. We were pleased with this because we knew very little of the modern Azerbaijani art. Therefore, this exhibition was an important decision. And the exhibition’s curator Hervé Mikaeloff is truly a visionary.
Leyla Aliyeva: Yes, this exhibition showcases more than 100 works of 21 artists. Some of the artists are taking the first steps in the great art, while others are quite well known. But what is interesting is that most of the works have been specially prepared for this exhibition, so they are shown for the first time.
De Pury: And you intend to do so that after London the exhibition traveled to other cities don’t you?
Leyla Aliyeva: Yes, we plan to organize the current exhibition in Paris, Berlin, Rome, Moscow and, I hope, in New York. Then we plan to complete the exhibition in Baku, to bring it home, probably to the Museum of Modern Art, which opened in 2009.
De Pury: How do you think what is common between these artists, since all of them are from Azerbaijan?
Leyla Aliyeva: Each of them is unique in their own way. But since they are all from Azerbaijan, their work is still associated with the capital, with Baku. Azerbaijan has a long tradition of art, so these artists grew up within a large cultural heritage. If you’ve ever been in Gobustan, you’ve probably seen the rock carvings which are thousands of years old. And even if Azerbaijan has not yet been regarded as the world capital of art, it has a very rich history, originating from ancient times.
Azerbaijan – the space of symbiosis of cultures, religions and traditions, and this is reflected in art. The influence of East and West is also manifested in the works in the exhibition.
De Pury: Do you have personal preferences at the exhibition?
Leyla Aliyeva: [smiling] I like all the works. But when I really fall in love with some work, it happens immediately, and this happened to me twice. Once at the Museum of Modern Art in Baku, I saw the work of Niyaz Najafov. This was even before the museum opened, and I remember how I was deeply impressed with his work. The second time it was no longer associated with the Azerbaijani artist. It happened in your gallery when I saw the work of George Condo.
De Pury: Would you be interested in showing his works in Baku?
Leyla Aliyeva: Yes, I would love to. These are two of my favorite living artists.
De Pury: Since an international audience is going to read this, do you think that there is something that they do not know about Azerbaijan and that you would like to say to them? We are having conversation here in London, and I must say that for me before I had the pleasure to meet you, Azerbaijan sounded more distant, though Baku is located just a few hours flight from London.
Leyla Aliyeva: Geographically we are located on the shores of the Caspian Sea, right on the border between East and West, Asia and Europe, which makes Azerbaijan very interesting. We are a young country with a long tradition of statehood. Just last year, we marked the twentieth anniversary of restoration of our independence. Nevertheless, we have a very ancient and rich history. Few people know that women in Azerbaijan got the right to vote in 1918. This was before England and the United States.
De Pury: What about Switzerland? This was long before Switzerland. [smiling]
Leyla Aliyeva: In addition, the first secular school for Muslim women was opened in Azerbaijan in 1901. We created the first opera and ballet in the East. The first democratic republic in the East appeared in Azerbaijan. Our country, because it is situated between the West and the East, is really known for its openness and tolerance. This is the place where you can see a number of mosques, synagogues and churches. For us there was never a problem in mutual relationship. This respect and sincere attitude towards other cultures is something that we get at birth. And I think this is reflected in art, in the works being showcased here today.
De Pury: When I arrived in Baku, one of the surprises for me was to see that you yourself also an artist. Herve Mikaeloff told me that when he saw your work, he decided that they should become part of the exhibition.
Leyla Aliyeva: I draw since I remember myself. I studied art at school and took private lessons, but never had the artistic education in the traditional sense. Drawing is an ongoing process of education, because the more you draw, the more you understand how to do it and how to do it better. Usually, when I start painting, I cannot stop, and sometimes I cannot sleep until I finish the picture, because I am full of thoughts. I have made four works especially for this exhibition. I would not like to compare them with professional artists, but I tried my best.
De Pury: I noticed one of your works at this exhibition which impressed me a lot. This is a still life which features a big fruit which is quite popular in Azerbaijan
Leyla Aliyeva: This is a pomegranate. As the exhibition is called ‘Fly to Baku’, I wanted to feature what is associated with Baku, and the pomegranate is a famous and tasty fruit. You will never taste such a pomegranate anywhere else. Therefore, I decided to feature it.
De Pury: The fact that you are an artist certainly helps you in evaluating others’ works.
Leyla Aliyeva: I think, yes. I know how important it is for an artist, how difficult it is to put a work for sale, when you know how much you have put into it. This is what you do not want to part with.
De Pury: Most people from the world of museums and art markets started as artists including me. Most of them do not admit it. I think when you are an artist, you learn to see.
Leyla Aliyeva: I can spend hours at art galleries and museums. The Tate Museum, the National Gallery-I can watch the same picture for long.
De Pury: I also heard of you as a poet…
Leyla Aliyeva: Yes, but I am not a poet. I have been writing poems since childhood but I do it for myself. But you have never read my poems, have you?
De Pury: No, unfortunately, I haven’t. But I also heard that you love music very much.
Leyla Aliyeva: I love music, different genres of it. Traditionally, the art of music preserves its niche in Azerbaijan. Our Karabakh Mugam is folklore music with its deep philosophy, tradition and history.
On the other hand, you probably know that we have won the Eurovision song contest. This is a great victory for us. We will be hosting the next contest in May. I am looking forward to it and we are ready to host the contest.
Since the architecture in Baku demonstrates rich historical, inner and spiritual content of the capital city, I would like to note a new wave in architecture which strikes minds. The architectural ensemble of a number of five-star hotels, including the first hotel Four Seasons in the post-Soviet area, that are planned for opening this year, impress with their harmony, just as the construction of the cultural center which has already added to history as a real masterpiece of architecture though being just at the completion stage under supervision of Zahi Hadid. Thus, this year is really special to us.
De Pury: These different forms of art including fine arts, architecture, music, literature and even fashion are all embraced in your magazine ‘Baku’. All artificial boundaries between different spheres are swept away and your magazine reflects this spirit.
Leyla Aliyeva: We launched the magazine in Moscow four years ago. It was my dream to set such a magazine and as a result it gained a great popularity. It speaks much of the culture, music, history, people – not only famous but also ordinary personalities with interesting life story in Azerbaijan. This edition became close and dear to many people which is why I decided to launch its English version.
We publish the version in English in cooperation with the Conde Nast publishing house because they got the idea from the start. Though the magazine is called ‘Baku’ it is not only about Baku. Frankly, every issue is a separate work of art. In every issue, we try to present different artists, reveal their talent, and familiarize readers with their works. In one of the issues, we offered Mr.Brainwash to create a special illustration for the magazine. For another issue, we invited Rich Simmons, the graffiti master, to Baku. He created impressive works in Baku.
De Pury: This is an interesting view on modern culture. It obviously does not look like a tourism guide on Azerbaijan.
Leyla Aliyeva: I want the magazine to be interesting for people who have never been to Azerbaijan and know little about our country.
De Pury: This definitely makes the intention to visit Baku even stronger. How do you manage with all of it? You have so many projects. To have good ideas does not always mean to see these ideas coming true. Are you hard working?
Leyla Aliyeva: I am often flying mainly between Baku, Moscow and London, as well as other cities. I have two children to whom I try to devote most of my time, therefore, sometimes I am very tired. But the satisfaction with my lovely business is the compensation for all my efforts. So when I came here today and I saw the exhibition, I understood that this is worthy of all my efforts and I merely want to do even more. This makes you so happy and gives you so much energy that you do not want to stop.
De Pury: How old are your children?
Leyla Aliyeva: My twins have recently turned three.
De Pury: What is your ultimate goal? I know that you have already made most of them true, but is there anything else that you want to achieve in the coming five years?
Leyla Aliyeva: We have many projects and ideas. We have started the International Dialogue for Environmental Action. The main goal is to protect environment in Azerbaijani regions, enlighten youth, particularly, children.
To do this issue more attractive, we decided to take an artistic approach to environment. For example, we are planning to hold an interesting event with the ‘big five’ in May. ‘The big five’ is the species of animals in the Caucasus that face the threat of extinction. These are a leopard, an eagle, a bear, a wolf and a gazelle. I was inspired for this initiative by the ‘Parade of elephants’ in London. We are planning to invite different artists of not only Azerbaijan but also the world for the project and show our vision of the ‘big five’. We do hope that this action will form an idea of these animals that face the threat of extinction.
Another project is related to the Maiden Tower which was built in Icheri Sheher in Baku in the 12th century. 200 nests of black swifts were revealed there when the restoration of the tower started. These are migrating birds that live in Baku but migrate to South Africa in summer. We have created special nests for these birds that would, otherwise, be lost due to restoration works. Again, to show the artistic approach to the matter, we invited artists to turn the nests into something equivalent to architecture. Thus, this project combines environment and art altogether.
In addition, today we are working at screening the novel ‘Ali and Nino’, which is very popular and famous not only in Azerbaijan but also beyond its boundaries. Film industry is completely a new field of action for me. If we implement this project, this will be an important step for Azerbaijan. The novel is impressive because it really shows that Azerbaijan is a mix of cultures, religions and traditions.
And when you ask me about my dream for the next five years, I really find it difficult to answer your question.
De Pury: We always say: “If you want to finish something, let a busy man do it”.
Leyla Aliyeva: I think that whatever you do you must always be sincerely involved and believe in success.