Amber Atherton, Founder & Director of MyFlashTrash.com, returns from a visit to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, with reflections on the meeting of art, commerce and ideas.
The little TV screens on my Azerbaijan Airways flight to the country’s capital, Baku, flickered and lit up the faces of my fellow passengers. Scottish oil rig workers, business men and botoxed, bleach blondes, we stood out from your typical Azerbaijani traveller; part of a small handful of British guests invited as guests of Leyla Aliyeva to the opening of the country's first Four Seasons hotel.
Incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920, Azerbaijan regained independence in 1991 and began its rise into a capitalist driven free market. The Baku of today aims arrest the country’s history of democratic repression and establish a cultural reputation, cultivating freedom of expression through the arts.
Keen to develop a relationship with the global art community, organisations such as YARAT! have emerged to provide a platform for Azeri artists, though a tour of the Baku Museum of Modern Art hints at a city concerned with attracting a new type of wealth – not for the first time. In 1864 the first commercial oil well brought on the self-styled 'Caspian Sea Gold Rush', which led to prospectors and entrepreneurs flocking to Baku. The capital’s fairly nondescript terrain was transformed into a grand European-influenced city teeming with opera houses and theatres. Azerbaijan is now undergoing a second cultural rebirth following seventy-odd years of Soviet occupation. From within the walled old city of Baku (a UNESCO-listed world heritage site), the city’s newly-prosperous have a profound desire to celebrate their country’s heritage while retaining a hunger to interact and make an impact on the world stage.
And it’s art, then, that will act as the vehicle for this international discourse, posing as an emblem of intellect and social respect -- lets hope it also acts as an education and gives Azeri artists the chance to give their nation a distinctive cultural voice. And, for the Azeris, hopefully somewhere in this country there is a native Damien Hirst lurking, waiting to jump on this wagon of wealth, inspiring his fellow public to take advantage of this grand PR coup.
image one: Artworks from the Museum of Modern Art, Baku.
image two: Philarmony Park, Baku.