Situated on the Caspian Sea, the oil-rich country of Azerbaijan is undergoing rapid transformation to become the cultural destination of the Caucasus. Shaking off former Soviet ties—from which it gained independence in 1991—Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city, continues to open itself up to international exchange economically and also in arts and culture. In recent years, the surge of national wealth centered primarily in Baku—a city of roughly 4 million people—has seen the rise of the middle-class, thus attracting the infiltration of luxury goods and services. On March 25, for instance, the British retail chain Harvey Nichols opened its first outpost in Baku and this summer, American entrepreneur Donald Trump will debut Trump International Hotel and Tower in the city’s Nasimi District.
In 2012, Baku was named host of the inaugural edition of the European Games, set to open in June 2015, which will bring to the city 6,000 athletes from across 50 European countries. In preparation for the event—which is estimated to cost USD 8 billion—Baku has initiated citywide construction projects, launching a building boom to match high-flying ambitions on par with those seen in Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island in terms of its scale but also, rather ominously, in its alleged abuses to migrant labor conditions.
Nevertheless, the impending growth of Azerbaijan has galvanized the country’s contemporary art, a scene predominantly fostered in Baku. The city’s main arts organization Yarat, a non-profit founded by a group of local artists in 2011, supports Azeri art at home and abroad. In March, Yarat opened its first permanent space in Baku and invited ArtAsiaPacific to its spacious new premises with the launch of a group show “Making Histories,” organized with selected works from Yarat’s permanent collection, and a new commission by Iranian-American artist Shirin Neshat, The Home of My Eyes (2015). Here’s a look at Yarat’s growing ventures and other cultural venues around Baku.
All photos by Sylvia Tsai for ArtAsiaPacific.
On March 21, Azerbaijan—along with other Muslim communities in the Middle East, South and Central Asia—celebrated Navroz, a week-long national holiday marking the first day of Spring and the beginning of a new year.
From the Old City to the Baku Boulevard, a six-kilometer-long promenade—that will expand to 15 kilometer by June in time for the European Games—along the Caspian Sea dotted with restaurants, hotels, parks and Azerbaijani culture museums.