It was only a festival of contemporary art.
Between September 17 and 27, those who like art, film and poetry were invited to participate in “Maiden's Tower: Being a woman”, festival organized by the Delegation of the European Union for Azerbaijan and several other missions diplomatic The festival, which is named after a famous place in Baku, was to celebrate a hundred years of the liberation of Azerbaijani women. The artist Sabina Shikhlinskaya, founder of a contemporary art forum in 2009 with the same name as the festival, launched and organized the initiative.
One of the activities of the festival was an exhibition of murals and graffiti that was held in Kombinat, a ruined workshop in the Azerbaijani capital that the artist's union once used during the Soviet period. The organizers expected the works to remain there after the festival.
But something different happened. A mural by the Swedish artist Carolina Falkholt that portrays the body of a transgender person drew so much attention that they put paint on him when the festival ended – in an artistic way.
In fact, it provoked a negative reaction, a discussion about the public visibility of sexuality, and even a response from the Government in defense of the “traditional mentality” of the country.
Transgender art mural in Baku.
Contemporary art in Baku: Before / After pic.twitter.com/py9yhclzl0
– Cavid Ağa (@cavidaga) September 26, 2019
Contemporary art in Baku: before and after.
In an interview with 1news.az, a news agency affiliated with the Government, Shikhlinskaya said he worked hard to preserve the mural, but failed. “The wall on which the artist painted her mural was in front of a residential complex, whose occupants complained to the police. After a series of complaints of people dismayed by the drawing, it was decided to partially cover the work of Falkholt with paint, ”Shikhlinskaya explained, adding that, as a public work of art, the opinion of the occupants cannot be ignored.
Other works of Falkholt are as explicit as the one presented in Baku. The Swedish artist challenges conventional gender stereotypes and portraits of the female body. In Azerbaijan, a country of traditional mindedness, women's rights continue in diapers, this did not go well:
Mənə maraqlıdır, nə əcəb indiyəcən Azad Qadın heykəli sökülməyib? pic.twitter.com/0qoSk7tRao
– Cavid Ağa (@cavidaga) September 27, 2019
Those who know about these issues and are not yet ready, can join ISIS. The enemies of the enemy, ignore the deer, organize their return to the cave.
I'm curious, why has nobody disarmed the statue of a liberated woman?
Ребят так быстро к этому нельзя приехать, начали бы с маленьких граффити.
– Эльчин Алиев (@aznicle) September 26, 2019
Contemporary art in Baku: before and after.
Hey, you can't get there so fast. They must have started from a small graffiti.
allahıvız olsun, tarqovide neynirsiz eliyin, üçün kruqunda divara daşşaq çekmey olar? https://t.co/4gTJ0aQMpl
– Elnur Героинoğlu (@XXXElnur) September 27, 2019
Have mercy, do what you want in Torgovaya (important pedestrian street in Baku) but how can you draw balls in the roundabout of the third micro-district (name of the neighborhood where the exhibition was held).
First, they covered the figure's chest with paint, and other “offensive” parts were gradually covered. Photos of the area on social media indicate that the mural was completely covered on September 28, probably by local authorities.
After the protests, the trans drawing was completely removed from the mural.
Do you think it was eliminated due to these protests? // Photo: Javid Kurbanov
On September 29, the Baku City Hall issued a statement in which he regrets the attempt to cover the mural with paint, but admits that he has offended the inhabitants and the “national mentality” of Azerbaijan.
Azərbaycan multikultral ölkə olsa belə, öz milli dəyərləri, mental xüsusiyyətləri var. Gələn qonaqlar Azərbaycanın müsəlman ölkəsi olduğunu nəzərə almalı, biz başqa dinlərə, dəyərlərə necə tolerantıqsa, onlar da bizim dəyərlərə hörmətlı yanarmal. Ölkəmizə gələn xarici qonaqlar çox böyük hörmət və ehtiramla qarşılanır. Amma paytaxtda binalar mühafizə olunur, onların fasadları yenilənir. Odur ki, Bakıda binaların üzərinə müxtəlif şəkillərin çəkilməsinə icazə verilmir. Əgər festival çərçivəsində rəssamlara hansısa binanın üzərinə qrafiti çəkməyə icazə verilibsə, bu, or demək deyil ki, onlar bizim əxlaqımıza zidd olan dəyərləbməlmllllblrlbayblmdləlmllllblmlrlidblmdləlmlllblmdlmlrlidblmlrliddləllllblmdlərləlmdləllllblmdlmlrlidrlidbləlırlidlırləbılırlidbılırlidbılırlidbılırəidəəəə Wave belə çıxır ki, Azərbaycana gələn qonaqlara öz təriqətlərini də təbliğ etməyə imkan verilməlidir. Bu düzgün yanaşma deyil. O ki qaldı bunun sənətə və sənətkarlığa qarşı hörmətsizlik kimi dəyərləndirilməsinə, bu fikir ilə qəti şəkildə razı deyilik. Bu gün Bakıda elə binalar var ki, orada qrafitilər çəkilib. Amma bizim rəssamlar bunu elə peşəkarlıqla ediblər ki, özümüz də, gələn qonaq da baxanda zövq qalır.
Although Azerbaijan is a multicultural country, it has its own national values and mentality. Visitors should not forget that Azerbaijan is a Muslim country. Just as we are tolerant of other religions and values, we expect visitors to do the same. Our guests are welcome with much respect. But the buildings of the capital are protected, its facades have been renovated. Drawing on Baku buildings is not allowed. Just because he was allowed to draw in a building while the festival lasted does not mean that they are allowed to project their values that are against our morality through their work. It is as if visitors arriving in Azerbaijan were allowed to preach their own religion. It is not the right approach. We strongly disagree with the (idea that the) decision to cover the work with paint was a lack of respect for art and the artist. There are buildings in Baku that have all kinds of graffiti, but our artists have done so professionally that we and our guests are pleased.
This reference to the “national values and norms” of Azerbaijan provides an important understanding of how Azerbaijani society perceives gender equality, LGBTQ + rights or any matter eclipsed by these norms. But hiding behind the veil of morality and “national values” closes the mind to the diversity of artistic expression, something that can only strengthen the country's cultural wealth.