Aidan Salakhova

08 - 30 Oct 2008

© Aidan Salakhova
Persian Miniatures
wax objects
"Persian miniatures" - drawings, objects

October 8 thru October 30

Aidan Salakhova is one of the key figures of Russian contemporary art scene. Her work has always been the expression of personal and artistic freedom and her biography that of a self-made woman. An artist, one of the very first gallery owners in Russia, a fashionable and successful person. At the same time, Aidan has created her own personal myth based on oppositions, such as feminism and the typical behaviour of the ideal consumer, eastern hospitality and aristocratic arrogance, a myth which makes her take the distance from the obtrusive vanity of the jet set. At the base of this myth lies a complex identity. Carrying Azerbaijani genes and European culture, Aidan was born and raised in the Eastern European empire. On these foundations she has built her art, which is about the myths of Beauty, Harmony and Perfection personified in demi-nude women, beautiful female-warriors, Ingres-like heroines. However, notwithstanding the formal "prettiness" of all her works, she is one of the most provocative Russian artists. One of the first radical actions that she made was declaring that all her art "was addressed to the male audience". Such a declaration upset the feminist critics, and only later it became clear what Aidan really meant. By no means, men are the subjects in her work. They are instead an ornament, submissive part of her installations. She is a multi-faceted artist, so is her favourite theme, the East. Aidan admits that she looks at the East with the eyes of a European artist of the 19th century who believed that this antipode of the rational West was an imaginary world of luxury and wealth. Eastern motifs were already present in Aidan's early works. Later, Orientalism becomes manifest both in the form of attractiveness and glamour - as in her installations-performances with live seminude women, whom Aidan made lay down on satin cushions among sweets and fruits - and in a radical form like in her video installation "Kaaba", where female eyes from a black cube make dervishes gyrate endlessly. Commenting on "Kaaba", Aidan reports the Sufi concept that the soul has a female origin, God is a Mistress, and the contemplation of light which lives in the heart brings to ecstasy... This work caused an uproar. Fundamentalists considered it to be immoral and, as a consequence, a dangerous interpretation of the dogmas of Islam. The conflict ended when the supreme Mufti of Russia declared that there was nothing scandalous for the Islam in the work.

A few years later, Aidan made the series of paintings "I Love Myself," which portrayed the inhabitants of a harem with their faces hidden behind a paranja indulging in lesbian games. Their naked bodies open to the caresses of their companions and to the viewers' glaze were drawn with a thin pencil. Teasing the ardent supporters of piousness, Aidan declared that she could momentarily erase the pencil lines and pretend that she had not violated the orthodox Islamic prohibitionn to depict living creatures. However, what matters here is the context in which these works were created: the Oriental myth rests on ruins. The militant East is no longer associated to lazy luxury and the eroticism. Today's newsmakers - Muslim fundamentalists and Chechen insurgents, terrorist attacks, shakhidi ready to die for the right to wear the khidzhab, paranoid tension between Europeans and emigrants from the East and the physical and psychological violence afflicting women in patriarchal eastern cultures. All this has been treated in contemporary art a lot, but Aidan ignores mainstream. She has returned sensuality - an issue rejected by the pioneers of avant-garde and for a long time considered bourgeois salon and kitsch - to the realm of contemporary art. Besides paintings, Aidan has also made the more outspoken series of drawings "Persian Miniatures", which was started as a private diary, sort of unconscious excercize. Although this series is considered to be "more outspoken", in fact it contains very little eroticism. There is instead a lot of sensuality, secrets, and surrealistic figurativeness. Not a single element in this series has one meaning. It cannot be explained in poetic "once in a harem, out of boredom...". The touches and embraces are not particularly erotic. Most probably, this story is about finding the right partner - which is an issue dear to many strong and independent women. It is not strange that in this series we find a book (an anatomy atlas) and a mirror, which are symbols of self-knowledge, and miniature models of mosques with delicate hands holding the minarets, symbols of faith. Clearly, the minarets that the women caress and cover with protective gestures are an evident reminder of Freud, and they might make you think of even more radical interpretation than the "Kaaba" installation...

Maria Kravtsova

Tags: Aidan Salakhova