Spring 1995 (3.1)
Frozen Images of Transition
Left: "The Epoch" (1979, Bronze, 85 x 65 x 45) by Fazil Najafov. "We were all waiting for something to happen. But nothing ever did. There was no protest. And all the faces among the masses looked the same."
Back in 1961 when I was defending my diploma at the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow, I designed a clay sculpture of oil workers as my final project. It depicted a young man leaning his tired body against a steel pipeline exhausted from work. An obvious scene, you might think, but in the Soviet Union, labor was glorified and my piece, obviously, challenged the political rightness of perceiving work as anything but glamourous and romantic. Workers weren't supposed to be shown fatigued and tired. And so I was told to break my sculpture and submit another project. When I refused, I was denied my diploma.
Right: "Knock at the Door?" "What is this period that we now live in? There are so many contradictions?" One of Fazil's latest works. 1994. Photo: Oleg Litvin.
That was the beginning of my troubles. There were times when I was so disgraced that even my close friends avoided me. It's little wonder that nearly 25 years later, my colleagues at the Biennial Art Exhibition of the Transcaucasians in Tbilisi (1986) awarded me the Grand Prix as "Most Disgraced Among the Most Talented."
Back during the Soviet period, artists had to reflect the ideas of the Kremlin. Everything was done in an academic style in direct realistic forms. We weren't supposed to think of any of the "isms" - impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, hyper-realism, etc. We had to make the choice either to erect monuments to the heroes and ideals of the political system or to stand by our principles and inner beliefs. We were told not to forget whose bread we were eating.
Who Needs Art?
Now we're in a period of hope. It wasn't that everything was pessimistic back then and everything is optimistic now. In those times, we had hopes too, especially when we succeeded with our opposition. Somehow, it gave us an "emotional charge" when we resisted the State.
For me, this new-found independence is a desirable change. It's not that I think or work any differently than I did before. The only difference is that back then, we received state orders and were paid by the government for doing certain projects. Of course, today, we don't have this possibility. We're entirely on our own.
Left: Stories of Life" (1987, Bronze). "Each family has an ugly hidden side as well as one which it presents to the world."
Right: Camel in stone
The greatest disappointment today is that there is no demand for seriously talented artists. Of course, this is linked with our economic situation. People aren't treating art as if it's important. For example, I don't know a single person in Azerbaijan who has a private sculpture collection.
The feeling of anticipation and expectation is one of the most difficult experiences in life. Waiting. Waiting. We're all waiting. It gnaws at me, preventing me from concentrating on my work. Spiritually, it's very difficult to create in an atmosphere when I no longer feel needed.
Most of the materials, especially bronze, that I use for sculpting today were acquired during the Soviet period. I try to sell the works that I created in the past. A few individuals and a few galleries are interested. It's mostly foreigners who buy for their own private collections.
In 1962 I joined the Artists' Union of the USSR and was able to exhibit my work in various foreign countries-Denmark, France, England, Cuba, and various Republics within the Soviet Union. Today, all the doors to the international community are open, but the pockets are empty. It's impossible for me to travel anywhere these days. But an artist cannot live in a vacuum. We need new impressions and new ideas, I wish I could travel just for the sake of working and creating. Where would I go? You name it-to any civilized country where I wouldn't have to stand in queue for my bread. The economic situation affects all of us. In the past, I was able to take orders and earn my living while simultaneously continuing my more creative work. Nowadays, I continue my creative work but the financial burdens are crushing.
I've named one of my most recent works, "Knock at the Door". When you hear a knock at the door, you never know what will happen? Who is knocking? Will it bring fortune or disaster? That's how I see the period we're living in. I've designed this piece to look something like a beetle or roach with four legs like an animal. Obviously, the viewer asks, "What is it?" But that's exactly the point. What is this period that we're living in? It has so many contradictions. It's so confusing. There are so many things happening around us that we don't understand-that we can't explain. It's a mystery how things can be so contradictory. How is it that we've gained independence but feel so fettered and unfree? The contradictions are endless and they confound us. We don't know what will emerge or what tomorrow will bring.
Fazil Najafov's studio is at Ashug Juma Street, Quarter 851 / 52. Telephone (Home): (99-412) 61-53-49; Studio: (99-412) 66-71-09.
Translation assistance from Dilara Vahabova and Jala Garibova.