Visit Azerbaijan's Online Queer Art Festivals
In a country where the LGBT+ people are stifled, Azerbaijan’s two Queer Art festivals offer the community a much needed breath of fresh air.
The Queer Art Festival
The Queer Art Festival is a new event that began on February 7th and will run for two weeks until Mid March. Due to the pandemic, the exhibition will be online.
To organize the Queer Art Festival online exhibition we brought together 8 different artists working with different tools and asked them to create a collective online exhibition. The main theme of the exhibition is called “Queer x Azerbaijan: My Body, My Identity, My Heritage, My Environment”. It is the beginning of “Queer x Azerbaijan” series and each 2 artists had been working on different sub-categories (Eg: 2 artists on “My Identity"). Artists created a general story-line and they followed each other on visual contents they create and the descriptions / stories they tell to ensure that different topics are covered. In every sub-category the artists explored and visualized the topic in a strictly LGBT+ and feminism focused perspective and mostly the themes of the works are connected to the local queer and feminist issues that communities face. This project is part of Cooperation and Development Network Eastern Europe’s Annual Work plan “Art for the Young, the Queer, the Feminists of Eastern Europe” and is supported by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.
The festival is a database of colourful and talented artwork from throughout the region. Some images are very honest and hard-hitting, showing bruised arms, and the aftermaths of assault. Although, some are bright, warm, and escapist.
Another standout is a series by ‘Nigar’. A talented artist who has withheld their last name to protect their identity. The series is called ‘My Environment’:
“LGBT+s live in an environment where people expect them to express themselves like the majority. Social pressure washes off their colors – limits their physical expressions such as person's clothing, hairstyle, makeup, and social expressions such as name and pronoun choice into a binary system.”
The title is called “This World Is Not Strong Enough to Stand My Colors”- which happens to be the haunting last words of Isa Shahmarli, an LGBT+ activist in Azerbiajan who on January 22nd 2014, took his own life, aged just 20.
Queer Art in Azerbaijan is a very sensitive topic. It is common for artists to hide their identity or to produce art outside of Azerbaijan itself. The most notable example of this is Babi Badalov, a Queer artist who now lives in exile in Paris, due to threats stemming from his sexuality and high profile.
Hosted by ‘Salaam Cinema’ - an independent art space in Baku - ‘In-Visible’ is a project that showcases Queer films to the Azerbaijani audiences. As well as this, the International showcasing of movies will be accompanied with educational workshops and discussions.
“At one of the In-Visible panels, female film directors discussed their struggles to attain visibility and influence in a male-dominated creative world. “More than anything, you need to be very persistent because there’s always someone who will tell you ‘you can't do it because you are gay, women, untalented’ or just simply because they don't like you,” Mammadli said. The new festivals are helping to dismantle those obstacles, she said: “The progress is slow, but it exists.”
The Queer Art Festival and In-Visible are both funded by international organisations and foreign embassies that are based in Baku.