Author: Valentina REZNIKOVA
He was born and raised in Baku, where he graduated from the Azim Azimzade School of Arts. Then he studied at the Institute of Arts, the Academy of Sciences, contributed to the national culture as an artist, teacher of the Academy, and an expert in carpets... Today Eldar Mikayilzade is the People’s Artist of Azerbaijan and one of the leading, authoritative and respected specialists in the art of carpet weaving. Indeed, the Azerbaijani carpets are recognized internationally as one of the types of applied national art transmitting to the world a message about the momentary life flowing in Time.
"There is an Azerbaijani carpet in the Louvre. It is divided in two halves–red and black. The red half symbolizes the usual walk of the happy life of the woman who weaved the carpet. Suddenly, her husband dies, and her life becomes full of black tones. I think it’s a perfect example of a woman's interaction with the circumstances of life, which then become the property of the audience, who gets into an emotional dialogue with the piece of art and its author. With the woman sitting in front of the carpet, as if in front of a mirror through which she sees her entire life. And then the viewer looks into her life through her eyes..."
Eldar was talking about the unique features of Azerbaijani carpets with great love and enthusiasm. It was clear that this was not just a conversation of a competent person; it was the essence and meaning of his entire human and professional life.
"How did the art of Azerbaijani carpets become part of your life?"
"A pure coincidence. I was lucky, that’s it."
"Back in 1974, thanks to the state program for training young specialists from all the republics of the former USSR, I successfully passed the tests and was admitted to the Ilya Repin Art Academy in Leningrad (St. Petersbourg, Russia). When I returned home, it turned out that my mother was very sick. I lost my father when I was 12 years old. He died because of the complications caused by his wounds he got during the Second World War. I could not even think about losing my mother too. I went to wander around the Old Town. I went to the Carpet Museum, which was then housed in the Lezghi Mosque. It was there that I met Latif Kerimov for the first time in my life. We got to talking. He convinced me that I can study at home. On the next day, I brought my sketches to the selection committee. I was then enrolled in the institute and got a job at the Azerkhalcha Association. That’s how the people were at that time! They would lend a helping hand to anyone in need. Latif Kerimov was one of them."
"Did he become your mentor?"
"He determined my further path, my professional destiny. My role model in art and profession was Sattar Bahlulzade. Latif Kerimov became the person that made me realise that a carpet was not an object of everyday life, but a real piece of genuine art.”
He spoke of his teachers with such love and sincerity, with such trepidation, excitement and gratitude that one can rarely find in people of his level of success and popularity. I thought that perhaps his fate was predetermined much earlier than he thinks. A year before his death, Eldar’s father sent his 11-year-old son to a Sufi sheikh for three months to learn reading and memorising Quran. But the sheikh argued that it was impossible to learn the Quran without a proper knowledge of the Torah and the Bible. That’s how Eldar Mikayilzade received spiritual knowledge that has always helped and continues to help him to see the world in that harmonious balance, which everyone dreams of, but not everyone achieves. And this spiritual component is visible in all his works.
We soon found ourselves discussing a very sensitive topic: the Garabagh carpets of Azerbaijan. The master compared the vibrations of ornamental compositions on carpets with music. It turned out that mugham was the cultural symbol of urban carpets created by professional artists, while the ashug music represents the folk art of rural residents. It is the creative independence observed in the centuries-old carpet-weaving traditions that keeps this art alive and interesting at all times. And this is also the tradition of constant renewal of style.
“The art of Azerbaijani carpets is unique. I say this not because I am an Azerbaijani, or because it is customary to say so. Especially in the previous 30 years. I simply repeat what I have always said and what the whole world knows, to whom the carpet art of Azerbaijan has given the feeling of true Art. And this is the feeling one cannot get looking at the carpets made in other countries of the world.”
"What about the Garabagh carpets?"
"Compared to other regions, the schools of Garabagh and Shusha carpets are most sensitive to the public influence. This art has always reflected the issues of politics, economics and trade. In the first half of the 19th century, when trade relations with Russia began to develop intensively, one could see the Khokhloma motifs and the motifs of Pavloposad shawls as part of the Garabagh carpet patterns, usually a black field with flowers. That’s how these large ‘Russian’ flowers appeared on the Garabagh carpets. In Soviet times, the Garabagh carpets have become famous for the images of Lenin and Stalin on them. It was a reaction to time and political transformations. I am just sure we are going to see the portraits of our President and Commander-in-Chief, Ilham Aliyev. This is the truth that will be immortalized in the art of folk carpet, as a message to the next generations. In other words, the carpets of Garabagh are known for their meaningful and unique colours and sounds. You will not find any other carpet in the world that could ‘speak’ to you in a way so confidential and intimate, confiding in you their thoughts, feelings, experiences."
"This must be a metaphor..."
"No. This is an indisputable fact confirmed by the centuries-old practice of carpet making in Azerbaijan. After all, a woman creating a carpet in a month and a half and using traditional ornamental details will certainly supplement her next work with new details. She will definitely bring in something new, something of her own, which neither she nor anyone else had."
"Can you give an example?"
"Let's imagine that during the production, the husband of our weaver from the 19th century gave his wife say a samovar as a present she had long dreamed of! She will definitely find a spot on the carpet to weave this samovar to tell the whole world how important this gift was for her."
"Do the modern women mix the classical tradition with the elements of their own?"
"Sure! This is tradition within tradition. Therefore, the art of carpet weaving is developing; it is always interesting and in demand."
"I read in Chingiz Qajar’s Old Shusha that it’s been an ancient ‘good’ tradition among the Armenian resellers to claim the Azerbaijani carpets be of Armenian origin. The same tradition has been preserved to this day. How can we counter this?"
"Alas, this is a sad fact of our common history. But, as the same story shows, this is impossible to resist. At least it has not been possible so far. I remember what Uzeyir Hajibeyov said about this and what is said in one of the hadiths of the Prophet. If I can paraphrase the idea into a very simple language, it sounds like this: if a thief got into your house and stole something, it means your house is a full cup. Thieves don't plunder empty houses, because there is nothing to steal. They always break into the houses of the rich, because there is always something to steal. Let's look at the situation from the other side."
"Our country is rich in talents, art, traditions and culture. Today we can give the world what the Ancient Greece and Egypt once gave it. This is an undisputable fact. And if Armenians help us promote our achievements in the way they are used to, let them to that. After all, it is impossible to hide the truth forever."
Then the Master told me very interesting moments from his childhood, which he brought to from Nakhchivan, where his father was from, and Shusha, where his mother was from. I have never heard before that the men used to take the carpet weaving machines from house to house under the control and comments of the women watching this solemn moment. Traditionally, the women used to say that the machine was going to be the guest of so-and-so. Then the machine would travel between the houses, and it was a moment of sacredness, spiritual ritual, bringing not only joy to the house but also new energy. Who knows, maybe that’s how the Providence wanted to instil love for this creative process in the heart of little Eldar? Love, which became the meaning and essence of his whole life. Life, where creativity is his very life. Happy life, which is different every day. He has been involved in and completed many interesting creative projects. In particular, Eldar Mikayilzade created the existing carpet school in Sheki with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the personal participation of the president of the foundation, Mehriban Aliyeva. The carpets created at this school in early 2020 were exhibited in Paris at the UNESCO headquarters.
There is another curious fact in Mikayilzade’s creative biography that few people know about. He is also the author of the portraits of several world leaders, including François Mitterrand, Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher and so on. And four more of his works are exhibited in the museum of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow! But this is a completely different fascinating story, needs a more detailed presentation. In the meantime, the Master is working with new ideas related to updating the traditional ornamental style of Azerbaijani carpets, including the ones from Garabagh. He has a cherished and bright dream: "I want to do something good and useful for this region. I believe that each of us must do what he or she can to help restore the returned lands. My dream is to create a school of contemporary Garabagh carpets in the liberated Shusha."
"What does contemporary mean? Do you want to bring in new touches to the traditional national style of weaving?"
"Exactly. I hope a new tradition emerges in the liberated Garabagh, which is so rich in various colours. And it will be associated with a new sense of freedom, joy and happiness. Because life won't be dark any more. And the general background will be not black tones, but light and joyful ones. I dream together with the students of the future school to make the main background in blue, green, red colours. All those hues and tones that have not yet been used in the tradition of this school. And there is more than enough natural material to obtain bright various tones and colours in this region."
I saw how his eyes were burning with hope and faith; I could hear excitement in his voice coming from the bottom of his heart. I thought that such a dream should come true. It must. Because it is the highest manifestation of love for your own land and people.