Meet Babi Badalov: The Queer Azerbaijani artist exiled in Paris
Sombreness in art is timeless. Whether Babi Badalov resides in underground Soviet St Petersburg, or the capitalist west, there is a continuity in the darkness of his work that reminds us that no ideology is void of flaws, and for this, Babi remains poignant.
Babi can be described as a visual artist and poet. His ideas are expressed through objects, installations and live performances. In 2019, his work was shown in the group exhibition Hotel Europa: Their Past, Your Present Our Future at Open Space of Experimental Art, Tbilisi, and in the two solo exhibitions Soul Mobilisation at La Verrière - Fondation d'entreprise Hermès, Brussels and Het is of de stenen spreken at Casco Art Institute, Utrecht.
Being a nomad is something that Babis often refers to. Being exiled from your hometown, fearing persecution and being rejected asylum takes a toll on a person. Babis' art centres around language, the power it has to demand attention, and get directly to the point. For Babis, the use of language in his art suggests an eagerness to fight back against the institutions, systems and societies that have rejected him so far in his life.
"I find myself an activist and a mobilizer through my work, which is a reflection of my own history as well as of the global forces that continue to structure the world through language. Sometimes, as in this exhibition, my fanaticism means that art itself becomes the strongest human aspect."
Similar to the reach of his artwork, Babi himself has had numerous residencies around the world. Born in Lerik, Azerbaijan, Babi was a small town boy with a curious mind. He attended arts school in Baku where he then joined the Soviet Army for two years. After this stint he moved to St Petersburg where he became a notorious leading underground artist. He then flipped 180 degrees and from Soviet Russia he moved to America for a short time.
"I can’t turn around and say that America is bad, but I don’t like the American mentality. I always felt that people were fake, plastic. There is ‘freedom’, but it is a land of puritans. They always want to copy something they see on the telly.” From here, our conversation leads to the subject of capitalism and how it has become entangled with the art scene. Badalov is very passionate about this: “it is the worst thing that can happen to art; [capitalism] is an angry monster who tries to convince you to buy something. We need to fight it. With my art I try to do that.”
There is a pattern in that Babis appears to operate and exist in a constant grey zone. This is reflective in his recent posts on Instagram. The account keeps his audience up to date with his frame of mind, it shows a sombre depiction of items that reflect a dystopian world.
Escaping the darkness of Sovietism to live in America did not provide the light that he had hoped. Perhaps the grey zone represents familiarity to Babis. A person who is in-between countries, societies, ideologies, and even sexuality: “I have specific views on being gay. I am absolutely a homosexual – I am open now, but I don’t like talking about it.”
Babis does not know where to exist, so he will calve himself a space in the middle. But in this space there is no room for pity, as this is exactly where he thrives.