Salakhova Speaks of Silence

Voices of Silence. Exhibition view. Baku, 2024. Yarat Contemporary Art Space. Image from the artist's social media account

A solo exhibition of recent work by Aidan Salakhova ‘Voices of Silence’ curated by Farah Alakbarli at the Yarat Contemporary Art Space in Baku speaks of a tragic reality for many women of domestic violence.

It might come as a surprise that ‘Voices of Silence’ is the first big solo show in Azerbaijan of Aidan Salakhova (b. 1964), the daughter of renowned Soviet era Azerbajani artist Tair Salakhov (1928-2021). At the Yarat Centre, Baku’s leading contemporary art space founded by Aida Mahmudova, you encounter twelve huge jugs placed around the exhibition space, carved from aglay, a natural white facing stone mined in the mountain quarries of the Apsheron peninsula of Azerbaijan. Since the 19th century aglay has been used in construction in the city of Baku and today is still the most common architectural material in Azerbaijan. The jugs are carved with an eclectic synthesis of figurative and ornamental forms and images associated with antiquity and Islamic aesthetics. Hidden inside the neck of each jug a speaker broadcasts voices describing tragic events from chronicles of domestic violence spanning the twelve years, one jug for each year.

The installation project is realised in Salakhova's characteristic visual paradigm, works which are visually striking, deliberately spectacular, on the one hand, and conceptual, on the other. Salakhova's visual messages often teeter on a thin line between the permissible and the forbidden. She boldly correlates erotic motifs with Islamic symbolism, introduces elements of queer aesthetics into traditional compositions, such as miniature painting. Salakhova is no stranger to the complex relationship between aesthetics and ethics. In ‘Voices of Silence’ her aesthetically pleasing, decorative jugs are in sharp contrast with the voices that bear witness to the horrors of family violence. The jugs are hermetically sealed capsules, closed off from the world. We can hear something terrible and hard to bear, but we cannot break the walls of the capsule to enter and intervene. All we can do is be passive spectators, as mass media viewers or digesting life through social media, we have learned to ‘dilute’ bitter visual pills in the name of entertainment. Today we are saturated with information, becoming detached and indifferent to real tragedies taking place.

On the opening night of the exhibition no sounds from the jugs could be heard over the loud noise of spirited small talk in the crowded space and so the vernissage itself turned into a prolonged performance, the unwilling participants of which were the guests who came to the opening. It led me to reflect on how each jug symbolised a separate house, behind the walls of which a ‘small’ human tragedy was taking place. But the voices of tragedy were not heard against the background of the festive atmosphere of the opening night, turning instead into voices of silence.

Voices of Silence

Yarat Contemporary Art Space

Baku, Azerbaijan

13 June – 30 December, 2024

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