Sitara Ibrahimbayli’s artistic practice is one that is deeply humanistic and empathetic as well as aesthetically striking it its raw emotion. Educated first as a psychologist in Baku and then in Prague as a photographer, she uses film as well as video, creating visual narratives of the people and places that she captures in her work. Her work is documentary, but also evocative and beautiful in its portrayal of the inner lives of her subjects which she emphasizes through her use of shadow, color and framing; her respect for their stories evident in the sensitivity of her photography. She has often chosen subjects that are at the margins of society due to their location or circumstances, such as women, rural life, and refugees. While her recent work has focused on Azerbaijan, the themes that she explores are universal, highlighting our shared humanity regardless of age, gender or place.
Sitara has exhibited around the world, including the exhibition ‘Our Land/Alien Territory’ at the 6th Moscow Biennale, the 2015 exhibition ‘BALAGAN!!!: Contemporary Art from the Former Soviet Union and Other Mythical Places’ with MOMENTUM in Berlin, the 55th Venice Biennale, and again in ‘The Great Game’ exhibition of the Iran Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale; she also regularly shows her work in Baku. In July 2018, she was invited to create site-specific photographs for Photofest.kz in Astana, where she focused on women’s rights through the themes such as spirituality, maternity and social life. Much like her work in Azerbaijan, she uses her photography and video art to tell the stories of individuals through their struggles and triumphs.
Sitara has long been an advocate for social engagement through art. One of her most emotive projects was the 2014 photo series ‘Lost in Karabagh,’ which examines the effects of the ongoing Karabagh conflict on the people and communities displaced and destroyed by violence. Through the examination of everyday objects, photographs, and scraps of documents, she represents the lives of the people effected by the conflict; through the objects we see the aspirations and personalities of individuals and families who are so often reduced to a statistic. Her work helps us to see the commonality between all of us, and asks us to consider our own responsibility to our community.
Active as a community advocate, Sitara also volunteers time with animal rescue groups in Baku and founded the group ‘Cultural Intent’ which brings art to disadvantaged members of society. Cultural Intent works to engage handicapped and mentally ill people in the arts to help them to build self-esteem through artistic expression. The group connects artists with organizations around Azerbaijan to help support art education and skill development, even promoting the sale of artworks by some of the participants of their programs which can be seen at various locations around Baku.
Sitara’s ongoing project ‘A Woman’s Journey’ has taken her across Azerbaijan to speak to and photograph women of all ages and walks of life, illuminating their inner lives that are often hidden from view. Because of issues such as poverty, gender disparity, early marriage and conservatism, many women do not have opportunities to actualize their talents and dreams, which Sitara confronts by providing a platform for women to speak for themselves and share their stories on their own terms and in their own words. The project is not yet finished and she plans to photograph one hundred women in total. Sitara also photographs herself in their place, highlighting the shared experiences of women despite economic or social boundaries. This project represents her vast impact and contribution as an artist – she asks us to see ourselves in the people and places she captures, bringing us closer to one another through empathy and understanding.