Author: Valentina REZNIKOVA Baku
Works by two young women have been displayed at the Natavan Gallery. One is an Azerbaijani woman, Natavan Aliyeva, a designer and artist. The other is British artist Sarah Knill-Jones. The exhibition called "A Woman as an Artist and a Subject" is somewhat provocative, referring back to the conception of the suffragette movement (the suffragettes fought against the general discrimination against women in political life and the economy. But this assessment is also a subjective one.
Sarah Knill-Jones is a British woman living in Azerbaijan. She works in the technique of digital printing on oils. It we put it simply, this is an image (drawing, photograph) transferred onto the surface of a material (fabric, polymer material). The subject of her studies is woman in the expanse of the changing world. A woman has a specific face and is consequently in a specific location. We understand that we have a women in front of us solely because we can see certain attributes of her sex such as the outline of the figure, the hair and the clothing. Sarah Knill-Jones's women do not fit comfortably into the world in which they exist. They appear to be restless and alone. It is as if they are not alive at all, but somehow in a place where life does not appear to them to be specific. Life passes them by separately. In spite of the fact that we see them in suggested circumstances, they remain observers on the side-lines, watching what is happening next to them or around them.
"In the expanse of Nizami (Torgovaya) Street"
In the foreground there is a woman in a bright-coloured jacket. Her head is turned towards the viewer, but this character has no face. Instead of a face she has a spot of colour. She is like a foreign body against the backdrop of quite specific people in the background. Or she is like a phantom which has unexpectedly appeared within the limits of the real life of another. But surely a phantom cannot have feelings, emotions, desires and passions? Why is the phantom so drawn to the real world?
"In Fountains Square"
The coloured spot of a female figure against the backdrop of the black and white world of completely concrete people looks unnatural. It is as if the unspecific essence of the character is being scoffed at. It is not clear why she has emerged here in world that is alien to her and where she does not find a point of contact with this world. She is there all by herself. She is a woman who has fallen out of the structure of the times. Where is she going? Why is she going…?
A faceless woman is lying on the cushions of a sofa in a room. There is no sensation of air around her. The presence of a physical body can be felt within the perimeter of the room. The facial features have been wiped out, the drooping shoulders and the lowered head do not point to the high spirits of this woman. It is as if she depends on this airless space in order to dissolve into it forever. This is possibly just how escape and loneliness look…
For Sarah-Knill Jones's character it would appear that there is no alternative to the problem of disappearing. They all disappear. Slowly, but really dissolving into facelessness and the non-specific nature of their own desires. The actual, palpably perceived world represented by the real objects behind her back in the form of a packages of apples, which should evidently be interpreted as that very apple that
Eve once held out to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Only here the apples are tightly packed into sealed transparent packages. And the man next to them, like a hint at that very Biblical Fall, is not taking any interest in the disappearing nature of the woman. The man is of no interest whatsoever to this washed away, disappearing Eve, nor does she need him.
The designer and artist works in the collage technique. Natavan asserts that she has found for herself that form of expression for her artistic idea which conveys creative satisfaction, excites one's thought process and awakens the imagination. She combines the details of photographs, clippings from magazines, sometimes snippets of text. The fragments take the shape of a puzzle, providing the outcome that Natavan herself regards as highly complicated but fascinating.
Their absolute, specific nature distinguishes them in an advantageous way. In a decorated space the figures of young women crop up from the froth and tufts of the fabric as if their outfits, in which they stand before the viewers, are no more than the right of women to self-assertion through their beautiful clothing, striking style, the originality of the combinations of the differently textured fabrics and elements of fashion from past centuries, from the present and the future. Natavan Aliyeva's characters are unusual in many ways. They are prepared to burst in on the reality of life not in order to astonish or shock but in order to say that they are there, what they are like and what their spirit is like, anxious, mysterious and fearful.
Natavan's contemporaries are young women who do not wish to disappear, do not wish to fade away into the background, to merge into the environment to such an extent that their own personality becomes washed away or evened out under the overall mass. They want to be here and now at this very moment, because life is too short to remain an observer of it on the side-lines.