Our main goal in this article has been to take look at the art and culture of Azerbaijan of Iran. So we can present a brief and general form of this culture and introduce to the audience the artists and form of art in Azerbaijan. Our main concentration will be on contemporary art and the last 30 years after the Islamic revolution of Iran. The authors of article are representatives of the Azerbaijani contemporary art community living in Iran. In our next articles, we plan to present you in more detail the areas that are currently developing in the modern art environment and the creativity of the representatives in Iranian Azerbaijan.
Brief about culture and art in South Azerbaijan for the last 30 years
In the years after the revolution, art and culture were put in severe conditions. The attention of the central government to art and culture reached its least. This especially true about the art of different ethnicities of Iran (non-Persian) which have continued to exist in excessive cultural-political repression. In these years, the destruction of cultural places and severe interdiction for practice and display of art has been witnessed. Even before the Islamic revolution, culture was differently destroyed under political pressure. During the Pahlavi regime in Iran, much regard was given to culture but this is only true about Persian culture, not the non-Persian ones. The language and culture of Azerbaijan suffered a lot of damage and loss during the Pahlavi regime which is still evident and traceable. In general, it can be said that after the fall of the Ghajar regime (who were Turks) 100 years ago, the culture, language, and art of Azerbaijan has been under maximum cultural and political pressure and a lot of efforts have been made to alter and destroy its originality and roots. The persistence of art in Azerbaijan in the last 100 years has been deeply dependent on the individual efforts of artists. The artists in the Azerbaijan region or Tehran and other parts of the world have preserved this art and culture and have tried to promote it.
Contemporary art and its development in South Azerbaijan during last 30 years
To describe Azerbaijan’s art in the past 30 years, doubtlessly, one must refer to preceding years and their influences. First of all, we will proceed with constitution and constitutionalists led by Ali Monsieur from Tabriz who, in the heart of Europe, had felt and perceived the French revolution and other European changes and whose return and thoughts led to the formation of the constitutionalist current. The constitution (Ghajar) period was distinguished by evolution, progress, democracy, community, women, election, parliament, and culture. This attitude led to an awareness of artists and the evolution of their traditional views. Artists from towns and cities of Azerbaijan went to Russia, Europe, and Tehran and caused a tremendous upheaval in art. It can be said that the pioneer artists in Azerbaijan progressed synchronically with European art albeit with more problems and difficulties and fewer supports. These changes first appeared in plastic arts, theater, and literature and then in other forms of art. The more traditional the society was, the more modern and pioneering the artists were and this had made it difficult for the artists. Whatever it was, these achievements, efforts, and modernity were transferred to the newer and more recent art. Nowadays, no signs of backwardness can be seen in current artists of Azerbaijan’s mentality and viewpoints, all thanks to the efforts made by intellects and artists after the constitutional revolution until now. To talk about backwardness one must consider not the artists but the governmental and non-governmental artistic institutions and cultural, urban, and social substructures. Returning exactly to 30 years ago, the year 1980, when only a year had passed of the 8 yearlong war between Iran and Iraq, numerous Azerbaijani youth participated in the war, accomplished essential operations, and suffered martyrdom. A great number of young artists became martyrs whose art and achievements could have contributed greatly to the art of Azerbaijan. Years of economical, cultural, and artistic difficulty, besides the suspension and depression of few cultural centers have done nothing to improve this situation. Also, one must not forget the religious and traditional pressure over women, women who, despite their potential, power and impact, have lived under repression. However, with the end of the war in 1988, the cultural renaissance was made slightly possible. Most harms of the religious mentality were done to music. This repression was so great that carrying any musical instrument was prohibited and no concerts or plays were displayed. Music and dance have been prohibited in Islam and this worldview was rigorously practiced in Azerbaijan. The only places where these arts still existed were homes, clandestine places, villages, and secret marriage ceremonies where Ashigs performed. Cities were bereft of music and dance and beauties left our cities. It was now, time for painting, cinema, and photography to carry the burden of art and culture.
Cities where contemporary art develops
Azerbaijan has many important, populous, and historical cities which each have a valuable and important role in history, art, and culture. But in the last 100 years, Tabriz has been the cultural and artistic center of Azerbaijan. Tabriz has been the gateway to modernity, political and social evolution, new arts, and new methods not only in Azerbaijan but in the whole of Iran. In general, Tabriz has been the city of the firsts. The first printing house, the first newspaper, the first theater, the first novel, the first encyclopedia, the first public library, the first movie theater, the first school in modern form, the first play, and the first theater performance all occurred in Tabriz and then was spread to Tehran. In this section, were divide art into 2 types: traditional, historical arts (carpets, music, Ashiqs) and modern art. Traditional art continued to powerfully make and create in all of the cities and villages of Azerbaijan. However, in the case of modern and western art, one can refer to cities Ardebil, Urmia, Khoy, Zanjan, and Ghazvin.
Role of media in modern art and culture
To refer to the influence, presence, and help of media to art in the last 30 years, we must say that it was quite insignificant and sometimes even against its development and prosperity. The first 20 years of this 30 years, 1990 until 2010, media only meant television, newspapers, and magazines. The television was wholly controlled by the government and completely biased. The goal of the media of television in Iran, not only wasn’t development, prosperity, and helping art but also it acted against it and have misconducted its audiences. Even the local channels (provincial television channels), which debuted 20 years ago, not only didn’t give a basic and proper view of the Azerbaijani art and culture but also has done much to destroy and despise its art and artists. Newspapers in Azerbaijan are really weak and feeble. They are mostly printed by personal funding and considering the artistic, cultural and political pressure is quite ineffectual and usually, a good magazine doesn’t reach its 4th or 5th issue and its printing is stopped. So, the press in Azerbaijan wasn’t successful and the main reason has been lack of support and artistic and cultural pressure. In the last 10 years, media has had a great development in virtual fields. In Azerbaijan, many virtual pages for support and introduction of artists have been created. But it is worth mentioning that these pages are managed by ones who lack the required information. This mission and goal are truly burdensome, important, and complicated one and thus, even these virtual pages have not been successful and haven’t been able to introduce the art and artists of Azerbaijan to the world.
Artistic centers support contemporary art in recent years
Maybe the most bitter part of this article is this. Which artistic center? Which cultural substructure? The Shir-e-Khurshid hall which was one of the best halls of opera and theater and the counterpart exists in St. Petersburg was completely demolished in 1981. This incident has troubled the soul of all artists of then and now.
It could be said that no place for presentation, creation, and performance of art has been constructed in the last 30 years in Azerbaijan. And if a cultural center or a hall has been created, it was soon closed or is in recession and stagnation. Up until the last 20 years, all the substructures were controlled by the government. In the last 10 years, few movie theaters and about 10 galleries were opened by the private sector. All of these galleries, save for one or two, continue their work unprofessionally and by the artists’ own budget. In the movie theaters of the private sectors, only the art of Tehran’s box office and non-artistic movies are screened. Nowadays, Tabriz even lacks a modern professional theater. The other cities are even worse. If there is a concert, 90% of it is vulgar Persian pop music. In scant concerts, one can see Azerbaijani music and music of main artistic flows. For the new art forms such as performance art and land art, there is and there has been no mental, cultural and substructural predisposition.
Painting and photography
If we want to talk about the last 30 years of Azerbaijan’s painting, we must refer to the occurrence and promotion of modern art of painting and its roots. Rasam Arzhangi can be known as the pioneer of the modern art of painting in Azerbaijan. He learned the modern method of impressionism painting when he had gone to Russia to study. He then mastered it. Rasam Arzhangi returned to Tabriz and founded Mirak school of art which is one of the most important painting institutions in Azerbaijan. In this school of art, unlike Kamal-ol-Molk in Tehran who practiced the feeble method of French Naturalism, he followed the method of Russian Impressionism and later Realism and Socialist Realism and trained important students. Another outstanding artist who was trained by Kamal-ol-Molk but didn’t continue his way and chose a more personal and modern method was Aliakbar Yasemi.
He started teaching in Mirak school of art and trained valuable students. Many artists after him have been under his influence. Of his distinguished students, one can name Ebrahim Poshtpanahi and Moghalebi. After his return to Iran from France in 1959, Hossein Kazemi became the principal of the Mirak school of art of Tabriz. Kazemi, who originally wasn’t from Tabriz, accepted this position by the order of the Ministry of Culture of Iran. This incident had a great impression on Mirak school of art and the artists of Tabriz. In some way, the school was divided into two groups of Yasemi’s students and Kazemi’s students.
Of Kazemi’s students, one can name Mohammad Fasutaki, Ammamepich, Matzur Qandriz, and Davud Emdadian. Contemporaneously with these, we must mention the two sculptors Behrooz Heshmat from Tabriz and Behrooz Darash from Urmia. Other artists were also trained at the faculty of fine arts of University of Tehran and other universities such as Farah Osuli and Chelipa from Zanjan, Nosratollah Moslemian from Salmas and Rezvan Sadeghzadeh, and Ahmad Vakili from Ardebil.
After this generation, which was quite brilliant, the revolution occurred. Mirak school of arts and universities of art were closed for many years. The cultural atmosphere changed. Hopes were high but the conditions were more difficult and social pressures were even more.
And now we reach the recent 30 years. The recent occurrences ended in the recession of art and painting. The hard 8 years of war between Iran and Iraq commenced and many of the coming artists were martyred. In some way, a generation of void occurred during the war the generations after which we can name the post-war artists. Again, hopes were beginning to blossom and brilliant artists began to appear. Of this period we can name Naser Bakhshi, Babak Amjad from Tabriz and Afshin Pirhashemi from Urmia, Ebrahim Mohammadian and Elnaz Javani. During this period and generation, an abundance of artists can be seen but the quality has severely dropped and this is because of the weakening of art schools and art u The artistic atmosphere of Tabriz has deteriorated greatly and artists are immigrating one by one.
After this generation, we reach the current generation which has been trained during the 2010s. Of these artists, we can mention Saeed Banihosseinian, Shahriar Burand and Navid Nami from Tabriz, Savalan Jamaati from Ardebil, and Ghader Mansouri from Khiav who, with their modern and contemporaneous approach, try to change the cultural structure and model of painting and art to help make a base for newer art in the next generations. The special point of these recent artists is that these artists make and create art completely individually and no urban or governmental or private institute including museums, galleries, etc. isn’t supporting them and they are independent. It’s this situation that has made most artists migrate to Tehran or go abroad.
Maybe one of Azerbaijan’s most brilliant forms of art which has a global appearance is photography. The first photographer of Iran was Naser-e-Din Shah of Ghajar who introduced photography and the art of photography to Iran. It can be said that all the years, photography has been at its zenith. But it should mention that most Azerbaijani photographers have migrated. Maybe the suitability of the art of photography is in these voyages and migrations. Of distinguished photographers of Azerbaijan, in summary, we can mention: The first generation: Hadi Shafayie, Fakhreldini, and Ahmad Aali, the second generation: Reza Deghati, Manuchehr Deghati, and Seyfollah Samadian, the third generation: Mehran Mohajer and Karim Motaghi, the fourth generation: Hassan Sarbakhshian, Jalal Shams Azaran, and Mehrdad Afsari.
In recent years, theaters conducted by Majid Vahedi from Ardebil and Asghar Nuri from Tabriz in the Fajr Festival of theater, as the most important theatrical event in Iran, have shined brightly. But maybe the most important evolution of theatrical arts in the past 10 years has been the performance of plays in Turkish. In different cities of Azerbaijan, this tide has begun and has faced a lot of reclamation from people and intellects and plays about the Constitutional Revolution and also the Turkish translation of classic western texts has frequently been performed on the scene. Of distinguished artists of this field can be named: Mansur Hamidi, Ayyub Aghakhani and Ali Pourian from Tabriz, Yousef Ali Daryadel and Hadi Hejazifar from Tabriz, Atabak Naderi from Ardebil, and Nader Borhani Marand from Marand.
At first, Azerbaijani cinematographers weren’t allowed to make movies in Turkish and only Azerbaijani folklore was capitalized in films. But in the 70s and with the growth of short films and the interest of youth in cinema the innovation of Turkish films was used by the new generation’s cinematographers and one can call the movie “Ou” by Rahbar Ghanbari the first movie to be in Turkish which was screened in Fajr Film Festival and Which was acclaimed.
Besides long movies, the cinema of short movies of Iran in the recent decades has had a significant rise and not only the Turkish language but also a kind of social view and worldview and aesthetics characteristics have given the cinema of Azerbaijan a worldwide reputation. As Jafar Panahi, a cinematographer from Mianeh made his last film “Se Rokh” following this flow in Turkish which won the prize for the best screenplay in the Cannes festival. Making Turkish films has reached an extent that Turk cinematographers in provinces of Qom, Khorasan, and Fars too make their movies in this language.
In the past two years, many important movies in Turkish have been made which have, besides audience of cinema, have attracted the attention of creditable festivals around the world. Films like “Eo” by Asghar Yousefinizhad, “Atabay” Niki Karimi, “Poost” by Bahman and Bahram Ark, and “Komur” by Esmail Monsef.
The success and presence of Turkish films of Iran on national and international grounds have been to such an extent that we can only mention part of the most important of them.
The film “Ou” – director: Rahbar Ghanbari – winner of the prize of the best direction in Fajr Film Festival and the Best Film in Religion Today of Italy
The film “An se” – director: Naghi Nemati – chosen at the main part of a competition at Locarno Film Festival of Switzerland
The short film “Ba ou” – director: Naghi Nemati – Crystal Seemorgh of Fajr Film Festival
The film “Eo” – director: Asghar Yousefinezhad – the best film of international Fajr Film Festival and attendance in the competition of Tokyo of Japan and Tallinn of Estonia
The literature of Azerbaijan has a glorious historical background and in prose and poetry has had many shining stars and great characters have grown and have appeared in the region of Azerbaijan. Even Tabriz is the only city in the world that contains a graveyard called Maqberat-o-Shoara (tomb of the poets) which is located in the Sorkhab quarter and is burial place to more than 400 poets and mysticsAzerbaijan has been home to many great poets. Emad-e-din Nasimi, Khaghani, Shah Esmayil Khatayi, Qasem Anvar, Saeb Tabrizi, Mohammad Fozuli, and Iraj Mirza are a few of figures that one can refer to as Turkish speaking literary man. Contemporary poets of Azerbaijan, one can name Parvin Etesami, Emran Salahi, and Bulud Qarachorlu. Hossein Monzavi was another contemporary literary figure who hailed from Zanjan.
In the modern period 3 shining stars of Azerbaijani literature, named Samad Behrangi (narrator), Gholamhossein Saedi (narrator and playwright), and Reza Barahani(poet and narrator) have of the same level been most influential literary figures of Iran and are doubtless of the pillars modern, political and social literature of recent years. In the meantime, we can refer to two of the greatest Azerbaijani translators, Reza Seyyed Hosseini, the memorable figure of Iran’s literature who was born in Ardebil and his book “literary schools” is considered one of the reference works in Iran and Khashayar Deyhimi who accomplished translation of important western philosophical and literary texts. Among other well-known figures of Azerbaijani literature is Gholamhossein Farnud who was the translator of important works and taught for many years and made efforts to educate younger generations.
Alireza Seyf-e-Dini, well-known contemporary novelist, Ahmadpouri, poet and translator, Rasul Yunan, a well-known poet, and Asghar Nuri, French translator, are some of the currently recognized figures of contemporary literature.
The influence of modern art of Northern Azerbaijan on the south
The roots of art and culture of the two sides of Aras are the same but their form has changed through the governments and each has found a different yet close character to the other. These changes have increased during the communist Russia and Pahlavi reign. However, the art of two regions has had a lot of influences on each other, and relations and partnership however little, have always existed. The art of Azerbaijan in fields of music, poetry, and theater, because of development and freedom it has had, has had effective influences on Azerbaijan of Iran and good relationships and acquaintances have happened between artists. For example, music in the Azerbaijan of Iran has faced many restrictions. But the collaboration of Rashid Behbudof and Ali Salimyu and the creation of the unique and everlasting piece, “Ayriligh” in the music of Azerbaijan, shows deep influences. Even though in the past 30 years such collaborations haven’t occurred. The musical concerts that Alim Qasimof, Aref Babayof, and others have had, have had a great effect on the people of Azerbaijan. While these relationships haven’t been made in the fields of plastic arts and cinema for unknown reasons.