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In the 1400s, the Venetian ambassador Giosafat Barbaro travelled to and wrote extensively on Azerbaijani cities and the court of Shah Uzun Hassan. By complete coincidence, the Azerbaijani not-for-profit arts organisation YARAT – which means “create” in Azeri – chose to locate its collateral event for the 56th Venice Biennale in Palazzo Barbaro, the ambassador’s former residence. The connections were only uncovered later, with the help of one of the two exhibiting artists, Rashad Alakbarov, and the curator, Suad Garayeva.
The exhibition, which comprises site-specific installations, is set to take visitors on a journey through time and space, bringing to the fore centuries of exchange and conflict between east and west and Baku and Venice. Alakbarov is showing some of his typical architectural and sculptural interventions, where meticulously placed metal structures stand before light sources and cast hidden messages on to the walls and floors nearby. He has also filled one room with a series of bridge-like staircases, which visitors must traverse to reach the remainder of the exhibition.
Kazakhstani-born artist Almagul Menlibayeva’s multi-screen film installations tell the story of Mukhtarov’s Palace, a beautiful Venetian Gothic building in Baku, which was erected by the oil magnate Murtuza Mukhtarov for his beloved wife, Lisa, in 1912. Following the Soviet invasion eight years later, Mukhtarov took his life.
Ironically, the building now houses the main marriage register office in the city and is informally known as the Palace of Happiness.
As Garayeva explains, the exhibition seeks to present a historical and cultural superimposition of Baku and Venice, with Palazzo Barbaro as the third artist.
The Union of Fire and Water
Commissioned by YARAT
Collateral Event of the 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
Palazzo Barbaro, San Marco, 2840 Venice
9 May – 22 November 2015
Interview by ANNA McNAY
Filmed by MARTIN KENNEDY