and Today, the Same -
We're Just Characters That Change Clothes
Visit AZgallery.org for more works of Nusrat Hajiyev
characters in Nusrat Hajiyev's paintings look historical, but
they're not meant to seem old-fashioned. You'll find the men
dressed in baggy Turkish pants and turbans, while the women wear
long dresses and veils, reminiscent of the traditional dress
a century ago.
Nusrat doesn't paint this way out of a sense of nostalgia or
sentimentalism, but says, "Life today is still the same-we
merely change our clothes." People wear clothing designed
by Christian Dior today, Nusrat says, but he believes that their
conversations, temperaments and emotions are the same as in the
past. "You'll find someone hiding something from another
person, someone trying to cheat another, and someone loving another
with the same intensity and devotion as Romeo and Juliet did
in the past." Nusrat's fusion of the past with the present
lends a timeless quality to his work.
I remember that when I was about four or five years old and wasn't
yet able to read, I had a book with wonderful illustrations in
it. It was hard to separate me from that book. I used to become
absorbed in those pictures. We were living in Ganja [north central
Azerbaijan] at the time. Later during a move to Baku, the book
was misplaced. It took us a couple of years to finally locate
it, stashed away among some of my parents' books. I immediately
remembered the book and since I could read by then, I found out
that those drawings were made by an Italian artist. That book
was my first introduction to art. Today, illustrating books brings
me the greatest satisfaction of all.
course, I've had many kinds of artistic influences in my life.
My father Suleyman was an architect who was involved with the
theater and occasionally played the role of an artist in plays.
He also made drawings. Elchin Mammad [a distinguished illustrator]
is my relative. The famous Azerbaijani composer Fikrat Amirov
[1922-1984] was my uncle [See Winter 97, AI 5.4]. I also had
an aunt who was an actress. So I became an artist because I realized
there was such a profession, thanks to the people who were part
of my everyday life.
However, it seems to me that primitive man is the most genius
of artisans. He is the one who began the whole process of artistic
expression in the beginning by picking up a stone or sharp object
and drawing his impressions on cave walls. Somehow he had this
urge to create and document the beauty of life around him. He
wasn't just occupied with satisfying his physical needs.
Left: Nusrat Hajiyev, "The Shah", 18 x 25 cm, watercolor
on paper, 1998. Packed together like sardines, the Shah's subjects
are passive and servile, expressing no personalities of their
Later when I started attending Baku's Art School (1969-1974),
I had already decided what kind of artwork I wanted to do-watercolor
miniatures related to history and folklore. I drew a lot of inspiration
from 13th- and 14th-century artists such as Soltan Mohammad and
Behzad. They were members of the famous miniature school in Tabriz,
one of the most developed art schools of its time. Soltan Mohammad
brought the portrait genre to this school with works such as
"The Prince with a Book," which is supposed to be a
portrait of the Safavid ruler Tahmasib, who ruled a region that
extended 1 million square kilometers and included Iraq, Iran,
Armenia and Azerbaijan.
At the time, my desire to pursue miniature artwork would have
been considered "nationalistic" and severely reprimanded
and discouraged. Other artists who had tried to express nationalistic
views ran into difficulties and couldn't get their works exhibited.
For example, when I was a student, there used to be art exhibitions
at the Lenin Museum in Baku [now the Carpet Museum]. One day
when I was passing near the Boulevard, I saw Rasim Babayev [see
page 45] walking with his head down and a painting under his
arm. The work, called "Pistachio Tree", had been pulled
from the exhibition that was to open the following day. I still
remember the dejected look on his face. It was the first indication
I had of how things could be for me in the future. But still
artists like Rasim and Kamal Ahmad [see page 66] used to bring
their works to show exactly how they were working, even if their
works were usually rejected. Today, they are among the most respected
artists in our country.
Public vs. Private
I soon learned to make
a distinction between public and private art. I created two kinds
of works: one for society and the other for myself. The first
group of works was shown in exhibitions organized by the Artists'
Union. The second group remained privately in my studio.
Left: Nusrat Hajiyev "Old Baku", 26 x 22.5 cm, watercolor
on paper, 1997.
For my public art, I made posters for exhibitions. They were
easy. Each poster was dedicated to a certain theme. As part of
our homework for art school, we created works for exhibitions
around certain themes. For example, there were exhibitions dedicated
to the October Revolution, Women's Day or Lenin. A few months
prior to each exhibition, the theme would be identified so that
we could start our work. For my first exhibition in 1972, I depicted
Ichari Shahar (Baku's medieval Inner City).
In my private collection of art, I created works related to history,
legends and customs. But it was impossible to exhibit them. Only
my relatives and friends saw them. I didn't hide them, nor do
I think anyone would have arrested me if they had seen them.
We didn't have any restrictions as to what themes we could choose.
You could paint or draw anything. You could even bring the works
to an exhibition, but they simply wouldn't be exhibited. I sensed
which works to take to the exhibition and which not to take.
To tell you the truth, the works I paint today would definitely
have been excluded from the exhibitions.
I've loved to read since
childhood. When I decided to become an artist, I wanted so much
to have my art appear in books. I think books, especially children's
books, bear a lot of similarities to miniature art. Children
like to read books with pictures. Since I inject national spirit
into the works that are introduced into children's books, this
helps to foster national spirit within children.
As a book illustrator, it's critical for me to transfer the spirit
of each book into its graphics. It's not fair to take anything
away from the general spirit of the book. But when I create other
works on my own, I try to contribute my own ideas and imagination.
Left: Nusrat Hajiyev, "Malikmammad", 6.25"
x 9", watercolor.
When I work on something, I try to inject my love into it from
the bottom of my heart. I'm known for being very exacting and
paying very close attention to detail. For instance, sometimes
it takes me two hours just to draw a character's beard.
In terms of adding perspective, I try to make the scene convincing.
That is, those who study my works can identify two schools in
them: both the school of miniatures and
the school of contemporary art. I don't draw my figures with
narrow eyes as they did in the past, simply because our people
do not have narrow eyes. I think the artist has the responsibility
to portray life from his own point of view. Why should art remain
like it was in the past?
I love humor and really
enjoy being around people who have a sense of humor. That's why
I try to add a touch of humor to my miniatures as well. I think
humor is inseparable from intelligence. The themes I deal with
primarily are authority and nationality. Such issues are eternal.
They existed in the past, we experience them in our everyday
lives today and they will exist in the future.
But it's not always easy to portray works from a historical point
of view. Finding resources and references to draw the old costumes
turns out to be quite difficult. There are some traditional costumes
on exhibition at the Tagiyev History Museum, but this is not
enough. My primary source comes from ancient miniatures. I've
also found some books and postcards for references. Most artists
have to resort to their own imaginations. It's difficult to create
old settings, but I think it's important to be as authentic as
Left: Nusrat Hajiyev, "The Tale of Yusif", 6.25"
x 9", watercolor.
If you look
at the works I did 20 years ago and compare them to what I do
now, you'll see a big difference. Sometimes it's hard for me
to even recognize my own works. Sometimes I don't even want to
remember how I used to draw because I have such a temperament
that usually after finishing a work, the very next day I don't
like it and start being critical of it.
Even though we have
gained our independence, I don't think I will ever be able to
feel completely free. In fact, I don't want to be free of all
responsibilities. I am not living alone somewhere, isolated on
an island. I have my relatives and my children, and to a certain
extent, I depend on them as they do me. To be independent from
a repressive government is a different issue, but moral dependence
is necessary for mankind. We need our families, our children,
our friends and our art. There can be no such thing as freedom
here on earth. If such a thing could exist, man would be spoiled
spiritually. I like the fact that I need to depend on someone
and that I have specific duties towards them. When I fulfill
these duties, I am the happiest man in the world. The same can
be said about art. I am a human being and I am an artist. They
are dependent on each other. When these two notions merge, they
create something unique indeed.
Left: Nusrat Hajiyev, "The King and the Blacksmith".
Before Azerbaijan's independence, it was difficult to consider
most artists who had gained strong reputations as "real
artists". If the situation hadn't changed, no one would
have known about Azerbaijan's talented dissident artists like
Javad Mirjavad [page 30] or Kamal.
Among their peers, they
were very respected, but among the general population, very few
people knew them. No one even looked at them when they walked
down the street. Meanwhile, the well-known artists who catered
to the government's wishes were given the choice assignments,
held high positions and made decisions about art projects (and
who received the commissions and projects).
Left: Nusrat Hajiyev, "Jumping Over the Bonfire at Noruz"
(Spring Solstice, March 21).
Today the situation is much different. We used to be dissatisfied
in the past; it wouldn't be fair to say that we are dissatisfied
today. We aren't, but yet we are. It's just that we have a different
set of difficulties that we have to deal with. It's hard for
average artists to make a living. One needs to be world-class
and extremely talented to become well known. The main problem
now is financial. I'm not talking about buying clothes and things
like that. Sometimes I have to be concerned whether I will even
be able to afford paint.
Still, I think art will continue here in Azerbaijan despite the
difficult economic situation. It's something that can't be stopped.
I remain optimistic about this. In the future I think there will
be fewer artists. Very few parents will urge their children to
become artists. But if a child is born with talent, that talent
will emerge. As a result, in the future, I think the quantity
of works will decrease while the quality increases.
can be reached at (99-412) 492-15-90 (home) or 476-17-38 (studio).
He has been a member of Azerbaijan's Artists' Union since 1978.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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AI 7.2 (Summer 99)
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