Artist Demands Azeri Institution Close His Exhibition
By Pamela Wong
*Last updated October 30, 2020.
On October 28, Ahmet Öğüt released a public statement demanding the immediate closure of his solo exhibition “No Poem Loves Its Poet” at Yarat Contemporary Art Space in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The Amsterdam-based artist decried Yarat’s depiction of his exhibition banner in an October 5 Instagram and Facebook post expressing support for Azerbaijan’s campaign to capture the autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh region. In his statement, he notes that Yarat’s “politically motivated statement” has “nothing to do with my independent vision or the content of my exhibition” and that he refuses “to allow my work to fall prey to political instrumentalization.”
Öğüt told ArtAsiaPacific that he had asked the public relations department at Yarat to remove the post, but that the management would not allow it. He said the institution had not acknowledged his concerns about his artistic autonomy and independence, and, therefore, he informed them he would be compelled to make a public statement and ask that his exhibition be closed and the banner taken down.
In his statement, Öğüt noted that he has exhibited “nuanced and challenging artworks” in many conflicted territories and regions, including twice previously in Yerevan, at the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art, in 2006 and 2018. He further added that while he understands how official art institutions “operate under difficult political circumstances, and some succumb to state pressures as a way of self-preservation,” he insisted on the institution’s obligation to “not endorse state interference and forfeit their primary mission of safeguarding artists’ integrity, artworks, and exhibitions.”
The social media post depicts the exterior of Yarat’s exhibition hall in Baku draped with a large Azerbaijan flag with the banner of Ögüt’s exhibition hanging next to it. The text in the post reads in Azeri: “Everything for the homeland! Karabakh is Azerbaijan.” Ögüt’s exhibition has been on view since March and was previously extended to November 20 due to the pandemic.
A spokesperson for Yarat, Hokuma Karimova, maintained that the flag is "very well separated" from the banner for Öğüt's exhibition. The organization did not acknowledge Öğüt's desire to be independent or unassociated with the conflict. Karimova told AAP that Yarat would not comment on what she called, "the artist's choice to relate his name, show and artworks to current political situation." Ironically, this is exactly what the artist was asking Yarat not to do with its social-media posts supporting the war using the banner for his exhibition. Karimova confirmed that Yarat had immediately terminated the exhibition, effective October 29.
As clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia have escalated since September 27, both countries and forces with the disputed territories (also known as the Republic of Artsakh by its Armenian population) have mobilized for war. The territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, recognized by the United Nations as part of Azerbaijan, has seen multiple conflicts throughout the years. The capital Stepanakert, along with cities in Azerbaijan and Armenia, has been bombarded, killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians. On October 17, the two countries announced again a truce, mediated by France in coordination with Russia and the United States.
Yarat Contemporary Art Space was established in 2011 by the Azerbaijani artist Aida Mahmudova, who is also the niece of the country’s current vice president and first lady Mehriban Aliyeva, and whose family has ruled the country since 1993.
Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor.
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