Baku-based artist Shahnaz Aghayeva is emerging artistic voice for feminine representation and human nature – visually and conceptually – in art in Azerbaijan. Daring and decisive in her artist practice, Shahnaz is a graphic artist by training, receiving her master’s degree from the Azerbaijan State Academy of Art, an influence that is clearly visible in her iconic art works. She has exhibited in Sumgait and Baku as well as in Turkey, and since 2015 she has worked as an art teacher at YARAT in their educational programs. Her own practice continues to develop, and her selection for the YARAT ARTIM LAB project in 2017 marks an evolution of her artwork with her participation in various exhibitions in 2017 such as “100% made in Azerbaijan” curated by Farhad Farzaliyev, “Sifir” curated by Faig Ahmed, “Female Issues: Borderless Conflicts” curated by Sheila Zago and the recent exhibition “Think That Everything That Exists, Does Not Exist” at YAY Gallery, 2018. Her work “Unrealistic Comfort Zone” has been selected by the jury of the International Biennial Print Exhibit: 2018 ROC Taiwan.
In her work, Shahnaz researches gender roles and human nature. Favoring bold imagery to express her conceptual framework, she questions the way in which women are treated within society. In her work “XX/XY” (2017), she created a wooden puzzle with elongated and rounded pieces able to be interchangeably connected in a variety of ways, representing the 50/50 chance that a person has to be born a man or woman, suggesting that in nature gender is equal and it is only with human manipulation and interference that it has become a hierarchy. The pieces within this work reference the shape of a breast, an image which continues to feature strongly in her more recent work, especially “Nur” (2017), a steel dome on which rests a central blinking light, the highly polished material making it difficult to look directly at the work. According to Shahnaz, the piece was inspired by the pioneering women of science and medicine, referenced in the materiality of the piece that is both strong and resilient.
With the May 2018 solo exhibition of new works, ‘Essence’ curated by Samira Sefi at ROOM Baku, Shahnaz Aghayeva again uses the breast motif to critique gender and sexuality. The stylized images of nude women are classical in their composition, but her manipulation of scale and perspective reflects women’s changing identity and sexual freedom as society shifts and adapts to contemporary gender identity. The women in Shahnaz’s works are liberated in revealing their bodies but are represented as objects of their own sexuality, which could be both positive or negative depending on how one sees the work. Shahnaz’s art asks us to confront our own preconceptions as a viewer, and think about our own opinion about liberation or reinforcement of gender. As an artist, she continues to push the aesthetic framework of the concept of femininity, asking us to find tolerance and understanding in ourselves and one another.