Baku-based contemporary artist Zarnishan Yusif was educated at the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art, where she gained both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. A member of the Young Artists’ section of the Azerbaijan Union of Artists, she has been the recipient of various art prizes in Azerbaijan, including the first place prize for young talent in 2012 from the Museum Center in Baku. She has exhibited her work and participated in festivals all over the world in places such as Spain, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, China, India, Austria, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia. Her work was included in the 2012-2014 traveling exhibition ‘Fly to Baku’ of Azerbaijani contemporary art that toured European capitals. In Baku, Zarnishan has held two solo exhibitions including ‘Money, Money, Money’ in 2018 at Q Gallery and ‘Old Baku’ at the ATV Gallery in 2016. She has also participated in various projects for the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Yarat Contemporary Art Space, where her work was shown in ‘Foreword,’ the first exhibition held by Yarat, and in the 2016 exhibition ‘Half-Truth’ at the ARTIM Project Space. In 2019, her installation ‘Bubble Reflection’ was commissioned for the Azerbaijan National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
Zarnishan works across various media including sculpture, installation, painting, and collage. In her two solo exhibitions in Baku, she presented collaged works combining painting with archival paper elements. In the exhibition ‘Old Baku’ (2016), she created a series of atmospheric painted collages in shades of blue, ochre, red and green overlaid with patterns of fabric, carpet motifs and lace, inset with antique photographs of people dressed in traditional Azerbaijani clothing, old book pages, and historic postcards, which appear in the impressionistic painted background as a dream-like glimpse of Baku’s past. The work is both nostalgic and contemporary, bringing the past into the present and acknowledging its enduring legacy in Azerbaijani identity. Zarnishan continued to work with collage technique in her 2018 solo exhibition ‘Money, Money, Money’ at Q Gallery, in which she overlaid currency from Azerbaijan over brightly painted fields, the paper money emerging and
disappearing from within the painted canvas; she has also created additional series of works using currency from around the world and a series of currency and iconography from China.
In her 2019 contribution to the Azerbaijan National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale ‘Bubble Reflection’, she critiqued social media and virtual reality as corrosive agents in human relationships and community life. The immersive installation was created from clear plexiglass stylized human figures embedded with the outline of computer chips and circuitry. The figures were lined up closely together as automations and when viewed from the front, a series of reflective spheres hung in the middle of the line of figures was revealed, suggesting the pervasive ‘group-think’ so common in the increasingly artificial global reality and people’s preference to lead empty lives presented through social media. It is a reminder that the conveniences of technology are changing society by erasing individuality, and that the awareness of this consequence of contemporary life could help to reverse the effects. Zarnishan’s astute observations of history and heritage in her body of work suggest that the past must inform the future for culture to survive.