Contemporary artist Rashad Alakbarov’s light and shadow installations have gained him international acclaim for their intricacy and creativity. Currently one of Yarat’s most prominent artists-in-residence, he graduated from the Faculty of Decorative Arts from the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art, his artistic training evident in the playful use of space, volume, and proportion in his artworks. While he has practiced across diverse media, including painting, sculpture and video art, it is his installation work that is most significant. The international art community took notice of his conceptual art practice with the now-famous installation Fly to Baku (2011) in the exhibition of the same name at the De Pury Gallery in London in 2012, which then traveled to Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Rome and Vienna before returning to Baku in 2014. In the exhibition, translucent plexiglass models of paper airplanes are organized to create the shoreline of Baku along the Caspian Sea, with the Maiden Tower featuring prominently in the artwork. His love of Baku and Azerbaijani culture features strongly in his work, which has referenced Islamic geometry, miniature painting, and other eastern motifs. He has shown his work internationally at a variety of fairs and festivals, including the Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival and Art Dubai.
In his practice, Rashad uses unexpected materials to create his work – found objects, plastic bottles, welded steel, and plexiglass letters, among others – and configures them to create an image or written message that is visible when the installation is illuminated with light, casting the artwork onto the walls around it. The works can be figurative or decorative, but often there is a deeper message in the slogans imbedded within the artworks. In his works he critiques consumerism, sensationalism, environmental decline and other global problems, inviting us to take a moment to contemplate our role in these issues while we view the work. In 2015, Rashad was invited to produce a palazzo-size installation of works with Kazakh artist Almagul Menlibayeva for the Yarat-sponsored exhibition “The Union of Fire and Water” at the Venice Biennale, curated by Suad Garayeva. Set in the exquisite historic Palazzo Barbaro, which was once the home of a 15th century ambassador who wrote about Azerbaijan during his travels, the artists examined the cities of Baku and Venice as places in conversation with each other, with Rashad’s work focusing on exchange and conflict between east and west as mediated through his shadow installations. In addition to his shadow works, he also created sculptural architectural elements including a room filled with a staircase and a colossal brick lion in the courtyard of the palazzo. The stunning and highly acclaimed exhibition showed an expansion of his practice, which continues to this day.
Most recently, Rashad was commissioned by Hennessey and National Geographic to create a research-based project inspired by the connections of people and cultures along the historical Silk Route, a branch of which crossed Azerbaijan. The Gobustan petroglyphs inspired Rashad to create a stone, light and shadow installation showing the continuity of human creativity and connecting the present to the past. Exhibited at the Heydar Aliyev Center in 2017, the central work in stone depicts a timeless scene of humanity similar to the carved rock facades visible in many of the landscapes along the Silk Route, with copper tubing radiating outward twisted and bent by the artist to create a light and shadow sculpture. The words created by the illumination of the artwork ask us to ‘Look Deeper,’ telling us ‘This Is Not What You Think,’ a fitting metaphor for an artist who continues to use his insightful work to probe our relationship to the world around us and consider how our own perceptions shape our experience of reality.