First as Chief Curator and now as the Artistic Director of Yarat Contemporary Art Centre in Baku, Suad Garayeva-Maleki’s mission to help broaden the Azerbaijani contemporary art scene has helped to evolve the artistic and curatorial landscape of Baku. Originally from Baku, Suad left Azerbaijan for university studies in the UK at the London School of Economics, where she went into finance after graduation. However, her growing interest in art led her to pursue graduate studies at Christie’s London, where she specialized in Modern and Contemporary Art. Following her studies, she worked at prestigious action house Sotheby’s London as a specialist focusing on Caucasian and Central Asian art, which were new areas of interest for the auction house and their collectors. During her time there, she curated two exhibitions that greatly expanded the dialogue between Azerbaijani artists and their regional contemporaries, and in turn, the larger global art world. The exhibitions “At The Crossroads: Contemporary Art from Caucasus and Central Asia” (2013) and “At The Crossroads 2: Contemporary Art from Istanbul to Kabul” (2014) were both highly regarded for their depth and breadth of contemporary art production across the region and were the first exhibitions of their kind for the auction house. In addition to her work at Sotheby’s, she has also curated exhibitions in Europe including Monaco and Italy. While Suad contributed to the curation of the Azerbaijani national pavilion at the 53rd and 54th Venice Biennale, in 2015 she curated the significant collateral exhibition ‘The Union of Fire and Water’ that was presented during the 56th Venice Biennale, and featured Azerbaijani artist Rashad Alakbarov in an aesthetic dialogue with Kazakh artist Almagul Menlibayeva. Recognized for its beauty and intensity, Suad’s curatorial vision was evident in the way in which the artworks inhabited the spaces of the Palazzo Barbaro, drawing visitors into the storyline through the thoughtful design of the exhibition, which flowed through sculptures and media installations, building the conceptual narrative across the entire exhibition.
Suad’s skill at crafting compelling visual experiences is evident in the variety of art that has been presented at Yarat in Baku, where she has brought a number of significant international contemporary artists to Baku to commission and exhibit their work. For the opening of the new Yarat Contemporary Art Centre in 2015, the art organization mounted an exhibition of newly commissioned work by famous Iranian photographer Shinin Neshat. Following the opening exhibition, Suad co-curated the innovative exhibition ‘The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter’ with Michael Conner of Rhisome at the New Museum in New York, USA, showing international contemporary artwork exploring the evolution of identity and visual representation in the post-digital world, which was a first for the Baku art scene. Since then, she has developed a diverse, challenging and engaging schedule of exhibitions, inviting international artists to Baku to create artworks inspired by Azerbaijan as an artistic collaboration with the culture and landscape of the country. The recent exhibition ‘Dis Place,’ the 2016-2017 solo exhibition of Columbian artist Oscar Murillo, who researched Sheki’s role in the Silk Route as well as modern silk production for inspiration for his massive installation that combined Shebeke ornamentation and his signature fabric installations that engulfed the space, is emblematic of Suad’s curatorial interest in mining Azerbaijani historical and cultural narratives through a contemporary lens. In 2018, in collaboration with Yarat’s former Artistic Director Bjorn Geldhof, she also mounted exhibitions of old and new work by pioneering Italian contemporary artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, new sculptural commissions by Azerbaijani artist Aida Mahmudova and a stunning exhibition of installation art and poetry inspired by Azerbaijani and international poets by Indian artist Shilpa Gupta, all of which were important exhibitions for the region. In addition to her curatorial supervision, she also commissions work by local Azerbaijani artists for exhibition and oversees the larger development of talent across the country through Yarat’s various studio and educational programs. Looking forward, Suad continues to lead Yarat in expanding the artistic dialogue between Azerbaijan’s immense creative talent and the larger world, inspiring local and global audiences alike.