Jahangir Selimkhanov: "The world know Azerbaijan as land of ancient culture, as well as modern and dynamically developing country"
Head of the International Relations Department of the Azerbaijan National Conservatory, Azerbaijani expert on the intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO, Jahangir Selimkhanov discussed latest trends in Azerbaijani culture in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- In recent years Baku became a platform for significant international cultural events, such as the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue. How do such events affect Azerbaijan's image abroad?
- Our state, the Ministry of Culture does a lot of work in this direction. In addition, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, headed by first Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva, is doing a great deal of work. A lot of attention is paid to hosting large cultural events in the country, as well as presenting Azerbaijani culture abroad. We want to show the outside world not only our national traditions, but also who we are today. Azerbaijan is now recognized not only as land of ancient culture, but also as modern, dynamically developing country. It came as a surprise for many people abroad that Azerbaijan won Eurovision and then hosted this song contest; We have become regular participant of the Venice Biennale - the most prestigious forum of modern art; Our musicians have been performing at the Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, for many years. Modern art exhibition project "Fly to Baku" was held in many capitals of the world, including London, Rome, Berlin, Moscow...
- Over the past ten years several pieces of Azerbaijani culture have been included in the List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity...
- Azerbaijan is consistently active in this field. Based on number of elements included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, Azerbaijan is one of the leading countries of the region. But the point is not just to get on this list - the main goal is to prove that cultural element that is on the UNESCO list is actively supported by the state and local communities, by the people. We have done a lot to ensure that mugham, ashug art, carpet weaving, art of playing on tar and other manifestations of national culture included in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage are supported.
- Are Azerbaijani cities other than Baku also attractive in terms of cultural industry?
- UNESCO has Creative Cities Network project, which Shaki joined in 2017.
It has different categories - City of Gastronomy, City of Literature, City of Music... I travel a lot and come across things like that. For example, you visit Austrian city of Graz, and you can find a lot of signs that mention that it's a city of design. You come to Poland's Katowice, you can find a lot of signs that mention that it's the City of Music. Shaki began to position itself and develop as the City of Crafts. In some countries, such decentralization is a prerequisite for cultural policy. Germany, France, Great Britain, have incredible operas and exhibitions in many small towns. Poland, Romania, Spain are strong examples of distribution of culture among cities and regions. We haven't reached something like that in Azerbaijan yet. Pomegranate festival was held in Goychay, classical music festival was held in Gabala, and the Silk Road festival was held in Shaki, but such examples are still pretty rare.
- At the end of last year, St. Petersburg hosted a humanitarian forum, at which museum experts discussed possibility of creating branches of major world museums in other cities. Can Azerbaijan create such branches in the near future?
- A few years ago we disscused creation of the New York Museum of Modern Art branch in Baku (such branches exist in Las Vegas, Venice, Bilbao, Abu Dhabi, Guadalajara). This project hasn't been implemented. I don't know why, but perhaps museum has requested too much, since it's such a huge brand. At the request of our New York colleagues, I discribed my own vision of the Museum of Modern Art in Baku. I still believe that transfer of someone else's experience to a different territory means means that it's just a work with the brand, and museums must be created organically. We need to build our own collection, which would reflect our own history and our moder art, reflect what's relevant right now, and what's in demand by local audiece.
In this sense, practice of the Heydar Aliyev Center, reflecting global trend to bring interesting collections and exhibitions to the country as temporary exhibitions, proofs itself useful. I remember how many priceless exhibits have been shown at the Heydar Aliyev Center over the past few years: Andy Warhol, Tony Cregg, Wim Delvoye, portraits of Shah Ismail and Shah Tahmasib from the Uffizi Gallery, photographs of Henri-Cartier Bresson, posters of Alfons Mucha, costumes of Grace Kelly, knights armor from Austria, audio-visual installation by Brian Eno and much more. Many museums prefere to hold temporary exhibitions for about half a year. Famous Design Museum in Milan doesn't have permanent exhibitions at all; every six months it hold new exhibition using the museum’s collection. There is an interesting practice in the Louvre - they invited famous cultural figures, intellectuals (for example, Italian philosopher and writer Umberto Eco, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, American theater director Robert Wilson) and gave them access to exhibits stored in their vaults. These invited expert's task is to evaluate these items with different look, give them a new meaning. They choose something, arrange exhibits. In other words, today the interpretation is more important for museums than possession of specific objects.
The “Heritage of the Shirvanshahs in the Museums of the World” exhibition has just finished at the Palace of Shirvanshahs complex, main exhibits were brough from the Istanbul Military Museum. Four helmets belonging to last ruler, Shirvan Farrukh Yasar, were brough from the Shirvanshah Palace as a trophy at the beginning of the 16th century. There were also battle armor of Shirvanshah Kay-Kubad and Shirvanshah Khalilullah I. This exhibition was prepared for 10 years. Getting exhibits from the Istanbul Military Museum was worth the effort.
- Can you tell us about your musical project involving young pianist and violinist Osman Eyublu, who will perform on March 16 at the Moscow Conservatory?
- This concert is part of the "Azerbaijani Performers in Chamber Halls of the Moscow Conservatory" cycle, which is held at the initiative of the people's artist of Azerbaijan, professor of the Moscow State Conservatory, Faraj Karayev. The Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan supported this significant cultural project, and thanks to that a number of our wonderful performers gota an opportunity to present their art to Moscow audience. Among them are pianists Ulviya Gadzhibekova and Gulshen Annagiyev, singer Farida Mamedova, young violinist Elvin Khoja Ganiyev.
Concert program is pretty unusual, primarily because Osman Eyublu plays violin and piano. In addition, it's not just a concert, but also a musical performance with a minimal presence of non-musical elements.
Osman has a special musical talent. According to family tradition, his parents decided to teach him music, but they couldn't decide what instrument should he play (his grandfather was a violinist, while his grandmother was piano teacher). At the age of five he began to learn to how to use both instruments and began to experiment. Listeners often don't believe that both instruments can be played that way, they think that his twin brother comes to the stage.