Agil Abdullayev, an emerging conceptual video and installation artist, has distinguished himself as one of the most interesting artistic voices in Azerbaijan. Born and raised in Baku, Agil developed a painting practice as a hobby while he studied computer engineering at university. What began as a way to explore his thoughts and emotions developed into something much more serious, and in 2014 he decided to pursue a BA in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom. It was during his time at university that he expanded his work to encompass new media, using social media, film, and installation to explore the complexities and contradictions of the western culture that he encountered in the UK, and his own identity within this different context. This direction of work at university resulted in a series of compelling long-term projects that culminated in video art pieces, including Rocking My Gucci (2017) which was featured in the New Contemporaries exhibition of emerging artists at the prestigious 2018 Liverpool Biennial (UK); the exhibition then traveled to the South London Gallery in December 2018. Also in 2018, Agil presented a solo exhibition at the ARTIM gallery in Baku entitled ‘Shy Boy of the Pink Future’ in November 2018, in which he displayed a variety of video works and multimedia installations exploring the effect of social media on Azerbaijani social life and contemporary identity. His work has been exhibited in Azerbaijan, the UK and online, and he has completed two online art residencies; he is currently a Yarat resident artist in Baku.
Agil’s practice revolves around how eastern and Caucasian identity is influenced by social and cultural influences and how people are shaped by the things around them – both online and in the ‘real’ world. He often creates alter-egos and fictional characters in his work to represent the ideas and issues that he tackles. It takes him time to create his character studies – each one often requires a year of development for him to fully understand who they are and how they relate to his own conceptual thinking. All of his research and creativity results in various series of artworks that emerge through each character, including Rocking My Gucci (2017), a video work in which a young man created an online identity through which he developed a following based on what his audience wanted to see as opposed to presenting a true reflection of himself, highlighting the exhausting work of constantly performing an online life. Agil himself plays his characters in the artworks, further blurring the lines of identity and reality, artist and subject. These characters often appear in his videos through monologues, interviews, images and video clips, all piecing together facets of their life as metaphors for our own performed public identities. The most significant contribution of Agil’s work is his analysis of how social media breaks down the previous barriers of place, identity and capitalism. However, as he shows in his work, new barriers to wealth, access, and representation are constantly being renegotiated within the online community.
Astutely fluent in the iconography of the internet, Agil uses meme-friendly imagery to explore what virtual identity means to us and our conception of ourselves. His current practice examines how Azerbaijani society influences its own identity and how it manifests in both positive and negative ways. Above all, his art is optimistic – he presents moments of hope and humor in his work. In a video for his ARTIM exhibition, entitled Pink City (2018), he offered solutions to help people cope with the fear and insecurity resulting from an increasingly alienating global capitalist society. He asks us to envision and manifest a place where we can fully realize our happiness and our potential – potent ideas in a social media landscape that often serves to diminish and critique rather than to support and inspire.