VISIONARY BEHIND AZERBAIJAN’S MUSEUM CENTER
Interview with Mrs Liana Vezirova Director of the Museum Center
By Nargiz Ahmadova
Q.: Please tell us about the history of the museum
A.: The building of the Museum Center of the Azerbaijan Republic is located in the very center of Baku, on the Seaside Boulevard. It is one of the most interesting architectural sights in the city and is protected by the government. The facade of the building is adorned by national ornaments, and the wide staircases and massive columns underline its monumental stature. It was constructed in 1960 adjoining a conservation area in a project led by outstanding Azerbaijani architect Hasan Majidov to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Vladimir I. Lenin and was opened in 1961 as a branch of the Moscow Lenin Museum. Hasan Majidov also realized a number of other projects in Azerbaijan - the Baku airport building in Bina, the Hotel Baku, the Drama Theatre in Nakhichevan and others. In fact, back then, the Lenin Museum was the only building in the country specifically constructed to house a museum. At that time all other museums - were adapted to existing buildings that means that they were not constructed originally to be museums.
In 1991, following the collapse of the USSR, by decree of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic (Ayaz Mutalibov) the building was transferred to the Ministry of Culture of the Azerbaijan Republic and renamed the Museum Center. However, the problem was that there were several museums in the same building, but no unified management. The building started to decline and loose its chic because nobody took responsibility for it. There was no heating system, the roof was leaking. It couldn’t last like this any longer. So, in 1997, it was decided that it was necessary to create self-sustained organization that would take care of the building and the collections, and I was appointed as a director of the Center.
Q.: Which museums and galleries does the center consist of? Which one of them is the most visited/popular among visitors?
A.: At present, there are three museums in the building: the State Museum of Music Culture, which moved into the space formally occupied by the Carpet Museum (now on the Bulvar near the funicular), the State Museum of Independence, “Istiqlal” (“Independent”) and the Gallery.
The Gallery is the most visited museum. It is located on the 4th floor of the Museum Centre. The Art Gallery, comprised of five halls (overall area 400 m2, exhibition area 700 m2), is equipped with individual lighting system for each exhibit. It is unique and original, because the exhibits are lit by natural daylight from above.
People look forward to the exhibitions in the Gallery. That is why expositions are renewed constantly. Exhibitions also need to be interactive. New exhibits are often taken out of the fund's storeroom for our visitors.
Many different kinds of exhibitions have been successfully held at the gallery: the first Baku photographic festival “Ayna” (“Mirror”); the charity exhibition “Souvenir” by the English artist Frances Leach: an exhibition of photographs and artistic pieces dedicated to refugees, the "Colours of Autumn”, “Spring. Woman. Love", “Impression of Summer”, and “Harmony of A Winter” exhibitions by Azerbaijani artists from the “Times of Year" series; and an exhibition by the German photographer Claus Wickrath, who has worked with brands such as "Ralph Lauren” and "Cartier” There was also a solo exhibition by the famous Bulgarian artist Emil Stoichev, organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan. It was held under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of the Bulgarian Republic Georgi Pirvanov.
The Art Gallery is the best place to hold exhibitions of paintings, graphics, photography, sculpture, design, contemporary and conceptual art, exhibitions of children’s art, and folk and fine arts.
When it comes to the Museum of Music Culture, it is also very interesting, and was opened quite recently. Today this museum occupies a large space of 1000 m2 area. Gradually, one hall after another will be opened, and we hope that it will also become very popular among visitors.
Q.: What are the rarest and most valuable pieces housed in the Center?
A.: For example, in the Museum of Music Culture, we have a magnificent collection of unique national instruments, rare posters, billboards, belongings of prominent actors and directors, and interesting photos, which are all very valuable.
However, of course, the most valued piece in our center is the printing machine “Nina”, which was granted by Lenin to the peasants of Kuba, for their donation of a carriage filled with apples to Bolshevik soldiers. This printing machine still stands on the first floor as a guard of the Museum Center.
Q.: How are you implementing innovative technologies to upgrade the Center?
A.: We are implementing new methods to develop the material base of the Center. Our Center is not just a museum, but a museum-cultural complex. Once you enter, you can find yourself at a concert, a conference, a round-table, and even ballroom dancing. The range of cultural activities is very wide. That is why we are always enhancing new projects. Each year we dedicate events to various subjects: theatre, classical music, jazz, etc. Within the framework of exhibitions we have held various concerts. I also undertook a “fashion and museum” project in the circular hall. Thus, the novelty is that we are combining different types of art together to show that all kinds of art are connected to each other.
Q.: As far as I know, your specialty is as a music conductor. Does your music background have an impact on your activities in the museum?
A.: I would say yes. If you know the rudiments of music and rhythm, you can easily implement them in art. Being a music conductor also helps me in my work as a director, because here I also have to conduct and command. Art is also sound...It is sound. I doubt if you will find another museum like ours with music playing all the time.
Q.: Was it your personal initiative to make music part of the museum?
A.: Yes, it was my own initiative, as I aimed to make the museum a nook of creativeness and relaxation. Upon stepping inside the museum, our inner world should transform, as if we have entered a temple. We use appropriate music sounds on significant dates: on Uzeyir Hacibeyov's birthday we play music composed by his hand, on holidays or mourning days, we also use suitable melodies. And the music shouldn’t be something fussy or aggressive; on the contrary, music should make you pause for a second and provide an opportunity to reflect. After all, a museum is the place where you can escape the everyday bustle and dive into the world of real art.
I believe that museums should take over the cultural- educational mission.
Museums should not be static with expositions only.
You know, my office is not an administrative cabinet. It is the exposition hall, surrounded by dolls, pictures and sculptures. I decided on this concept for myself - the director’s office in exposition.
Q.: What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most rewarding?
A.: The weakest link is the staff. It is very difficult to work with the staff, as we do not have professionals in this sphere. Young people graduate from art universities, even from departments of museum practices, but they don’t go to work in museums. That means they get diplomas just for the record. They do not like their job. Well, I always say, if you don’t: enjoy what you do, then you are preparing an uninteresting hopeless future for yourself. One should pursue only what he/she enjoys. You know, we should look to the museums of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Even the keepers in the halls are enthusiastic about their job. However, you can hardly find such an approach in Baku. Staff turnover is very high here. Young ladies come to the position of keepers, stay for couple of months and leave the job. They do not want to develop at the museum and dedicate years to it. They want it all and now. But, it is not possible. Everything demands time, and time has its own countdown.
I am devoted to my job. Even in during hard times, with a small salary and no investments, I didn’t betray my occupation. Today I don’t regret a single moment, as I have taken my place in a life.
Each day I come to work like I am going to a festival. Perhaps some of my subordinates even hate me for keeping them for late hours. I’ve implemented mandatory evening activities in order for the museum to be bursting with life. People visit the center after a hard working day. It is always noisy, beautiful and crowded here, and that is what I like. That is exactly the most rewarding part of my job.
Q.: Why do you believe museums are valuable in today's world?
A.: I believe that no single state can be considered to be a state if it does not have a museum. Whenever we come to a new country, the first thing we want to do is to visit a museum, so that by means of a museum we try to learn the history and culture of the country. For every country museums are a state treasure, because they preserve the country's most precious showpieces. It is not accidental that during The Great Patriotic War, civilians were dying and starving, but they still tried to rescue artifacts. They understood that if a single picture were to be lost, it would have been irretrievable. Similarly, if a single Azerbaijanian national carpet burns to ashes, we will lose the entire history. These things are incredibly valuable.
Q.: To sum up results of 2016 as it comes to a close, which museum event stands out the most for you?
A.: We have held a great many events: personal exhibitions, symposiums, photo exhibitions, competitions. However, the Baku audience fell in love with dolls through our International Biennale of Dolls. The first Baku International Doll Biennale took place in 2011, organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Azerbaijan Republic.
“Fusion”, in the title of the Biennale, has several meanings. It is a jazz term indicating the integration of eastern and western music forms played on both traditional and modern musical instruments. The word is also used in architecture to describe eclecticism. Thus, by merging the strong traditions of jazz and the architectural eclecticism of Baku, the term “Fusion” perfectly covers a display of various forms of the art of the doll. This Biennale created an international stir. One result of the Biennale was the opening of the region’s first “Kukla” (Doll) Art Gallery, which has become a favorite destination for residents and visitors to our city.
The main objective in organizing the International Dolls Biennale was to attract the attention of prestigious international organizations and generate fruitful, long-term co-operation with our country which is already known for its significant achievements and certain traditions in the art of ethnographic and folk dolls. The Biennale also introduced the Azerbaijani audience to the best creators of a very wide spectrum of artistic dolls.
Leading specialists were invited to deliver master classes; this also enabled Azerbaijan’s young doll artists to build on their professionalism and properly exhibit their creations in the best exhibition venues. Craftsmen from many countries took part in the Baku Biennale - from Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Latvia (the Riga Museum of Dolls), the Netherlands, Russia (the Vakhtanov Gallery), Ukraine, Georgia, Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Kazakhstan and Israel.
In recent years much serious work has been devoted to the development of the art of the doll in Azerbaijan. Our master craftspeople have been delegates many times to international doll exhibitions.
Today it is difficult to imagine a themed project without a display of dolls. Moreover, I would like to tell you, that the year before last our Biennale went down in history as the most visited exhibition in Baku. Despite of the crisis and difficult times, we will do our best to organize the International Dolls Biennale in 2017.
Q.: The museum center is one of the most beloved places for various cultural events. Which prospective projects are you planning to please our citizens and guests of the city?
A.: We are planning an exhibition of Shane Guffogg. He is a very famous Californian painter with a deeply disciplined approach to his art making. He is a painter who works in oil on canvas and paper, and watercolor, gouache, and pastel on paper, in addition to traditional etchings on zinc plates. Guffogg is in the collections of The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Duke University Museum in Durham NC, Fresno Art Museum in Fresno CA, Jumex Foundation in Mexico City, and the Laguna Art Museum. It will be a big deal.
Also, we are cooperating with various local committees and one of these will also have an exhibition. The customs committee of Azerbaijan will temporarily entrust us with valuable goods that have been prohibited from being withdrawn from the territory of the country. Seized wares- sculptures, icons, jewelry, paintings, will be demonstrated in the Museum.
However, it is the project “DOT-ART” upon which that I particularly would like to pause.
The Gallery of the Museum Centre of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan and SALON Azerbaijan magazine will launch a unique DOT-ART project, in which the symbiosis of several areas of art will be presented: design and architecture and works of painters, sculptors, photographers and masters of authorship dolls. The official opening of the project, which includes 4 exhibitions during the year, is scheduled for the 1st of March 2017.
The projects objective is to introduce art in a real life environment, to present works of art as an element of interior design, and contribute to selling them. Exhibitions of young Azerbaijani artists and architects, design exhibitions, lectures and master classes, presentations and workshops with the participation of foreign guests are scheduled within the project.
The DOT-ART project is an example of creating a harmonious environment in which all the components have equal rights and are in partnership. After all, even simple details can create authenticity and perfection.
The first exhibition will be dedicated to the POP-ART trend. This phenomenon is one of the foundations of modern aesthetics, but the response it provokes is anything but simple. Works of POP-ART cause diametrically opposed reactions in the world of art and provoke the broadest discussions among professionals and art critics.
Q.: Which steps are you taking to popularize domestic. art and national artists in particular?
A.: During the last 20 years we have organized a great many exhibitions both of famous and little-known artists. One of my main missions is to find young talents and give them a path to a bright future by means of exhibitions. Such successful artists as Vugar Muradov, Niyaz Najafov, Naira Rustamova, Teymur and Mahmud Rustamov, Anar Huseynzade and Mamed Rashid launched their careers from the Museum Center.
By the way, the project which I told you about before, “DOT-ART”, is the very project that completely fits the above mentioned goals - to open doors for new talented artists.
Q.: What are your goals/dreams for the future?
A.: I have a lot of dreams connected with the museum: to make it even more popular, to implement innovations, to reconstruct the first floor and build an elevator. I will be also happy if we have our own shop and cafe within the Center. Why not?
One of my biggest dreams is to stage a mono performance in the Center and afterwards tour the world's museums with this performance.
In conclusion, I wish to add that each of us should love her/his work, and this love will never go unnoticed.