The Union of Fire and Water Collateral Event for the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia (PHOTO)

The Union of Fire and Water Collateral Event for the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia (PHOTO)

The Union of Fire and Water presents a historical and cultural superimposition of Baku and Venice as seen through the eyes of two artists, Almagul Menlibayeva and Rashad Alakbarov. The exhibition brings together site-specific video work, sculpture and installation to explore the interrelation between Venice and Baku. The Union of Fire and Water will be based in the previously private Palazzo Barbaro, the former residence of Giosafat Barbaro, a Venetian ambassador who travelled to and wrote extensively on Azerbaijani cities and the court of Shah Uzun Hassan in the late 1400s. Commissioned by YARAT, a not-for-profit contemporary art organisation based in Baku, and curated by Suad Garayeva, the exhibition will be open to the public from 9 May - 22 November 2015 at The 56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia.

The internationally renowned Kazakhstani-born contemporary artist Almagul Menlibayeva works with a range of media including painting, graphics, performance, installation, video and fine art in order to expose shared cultural experiences across time and place. Menlibayeva's acclaimed practice references non-verbal dialogues across worlds, cultures and eras, with particular attention given to the role of women in pre-Soviet, pre-Islamic and Shamanistic and dervish cultures. Rashad Alakbarov is one of the key Azerbaijani artists to come to international attention in recent years. His installation-based works explore the distortion of sensory perception; using various media, Alakbarov arranges objects and fragments before a light-source to cast shadows. The duality between installation and creation, light and shadow, reality and perception is central to his art.

Drawing on ideas of tradition, history, culture and architecture, The Union of Fire and Water takes inspiration from a landmark building constructed in the Venetian Gothic style in Baku in 1912: Mukhtarov's Palace. Erected for his beloved wife by one of the first oil magnates, Murtuza Mukhtarov, the building has since changed hands and functions numerous times following the Soviet invasion and Mukhtarov's suicide. The building now houses the main marriage registry office in Baku and is informally known as the 'Palace of Happiness'. The story of Mukhtarov's Palace exemplifies wider themes of unity and conflict, love and violence, dialogue and aggression explored by Menlibayeva and Alakbarov within the show. Using the centuries of exchange and conflict inherent within the architecture of both Baku and Venice, The Union of Fire and Water seeks to explore the complexities of oscillating cultural unions.

Rashad Alakbarov's sculptural interventions interact with the Venetian environment of the Palazzo Barbaro and its 14th century Gothic interior. Metal, light, shadow and sound installations combine to expose discrepancies and dualities latent within the space. Uniting the Venetian history of the Palazzo with his personal history of Baku, Alakbarov introduces an emerging voice from the East. Almagul Menlibayeva's newly commissioned video installation plays on multiple channels across successive rooms. The film draws on the narrative of Mukhtarov and his wife Lisa, immersing the viewer in the story of Baku, whilst further exploring ideas of legacy, modernity, conflict and kinship.

Both installations are accompanied by a digital platform allowing viewers to become further immersed in the exhibition. Social media platforms and a dedicated webpage following the progress of the project act as a conduit into the intricacies explored within The Union of Fire and Water. The webpage brings together the layered narrative of the show through both visual and literary references, historical facts and interviews, and will also provide live feeds from within the Palazzo Barbaro.

A catalogue will accompany the presentation with texts by Fuad Akhundov, writer and historian; Francesco Bonami, curator; Lala Kazimova, art historian and specialist in Oriental music and literature; Sara Raza, Guggenheim UBS Map Curator for the Middle East; Kasia Redzisz, Senior Curator at Tate Liverpool and Ermanno Rivetti, Assistant Editor at The Art Newspaper.

The Union of Fire and Water is commissioned by YARAT contemporary art organisation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion and nurturing of contemporary art in Azerbaijan.

Notes to Editors:

Exhibition details

Title: The Union of Fire and Water

Location: Palazzo Barbaro, San Marco, 2840, Venezia, Italy

Exhibition dates: 9 May - 22 November 2015

Nearest Vaporetto stop: Accademia or Giglio

Directions to access: via Grand Canal or Campo St Stefano


Twitter: @yaratartspace Facebook:

Instagram: @yaratcontemporaryartspace

Coordinator in Venice: PDG Arte Communications |


YARAT is a not-for-profit organisation, based in Baku, Azerbaijan. Founded by Aida Mahmudova and a group of artists in 2011, YARAT is dedicated to nurturing an understanding of contemporary art in Azerbaijan and to creating a platform for Azerbaijani art, both nationally and internationally.

YARAT (which means create in Azerbaijani) has commissioned over 80 projects to date, the majority in Baku, Azerbaijan. Education is at the core of YARAT's work and they hold artist residencies, workshops, lectures, and screenings and in 2014 they launched a summer school. YARAT's programme ARTIM (meaning progress in Azerbaijani supports young practitioners in the arts providing opportunities to curate and feature their work in exhibitions. In 2012, YARAT opened a social enterprise YAY Gallery, where proceeds are shared between the artists and YARAT.

YARAT's has produced two Public Art Festivals in Baku, exhibitions in collaboration with the city's museums and international projects such as a collateral event for the 55th Venice Biennale and the IV Moscow International Biennale for Young Art.

The organisation continues to grow; in 2014 YARAT opened a new building housing artists' studios and apartments to support their residency programme. YARAT Contemporary Art Centre opens in March 2015 and is the organisation's first permanent project space and a hub for contemporary art and art education for the Caucasus, Central Asia and neighbouring countries.

Artist biographies

Rashad Alakbarov was born in 1979 and lives and works in Baku. His works have been exhibited internationally with recent exhibitions including HERE...TODAY at the Old Sorting Office, London (2014), INTERACT: Deconstructing Spectatorship at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London (2014) and the Azerbaijan Pavilion at the 55th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia. Alakbarov graduated from the Faculty of Decorative Arts at Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art in Baku in 2001. He works with different media, including painting, sculpture, theatre decorations, video art and architec­tural design. The use of shadows in Alakbarov's installations has become the main direction in his conceptual work. The first public showing of this type of work was at the Wings of Time exhibition in Baku, 2000. His work is held in private collections in Azerbaijan, Italy, Turkey and Russia.

Almagul Menlibayeva is a contemporary video artist and photographer born in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Menlibayeva now lives and works in Kazakhstan and Germany. She has gained international recognition by participating in the 15th and 18th Sydney Biennales; 51st, 52nd and 53rd Venice Biennales; the Sharjah Biennial 10 and the 4th Moscow Biennale. Menlibayeva's work has been widely exhibited at museums and galleries internationally including the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Moscow and MoMA PS1 as part of EXPO 1, New York. Her films have been shown at numerous international film festivals including the KINO DER KUNST 2013, International Film Festival, Munich, where she received the main prize.

About the Curator

Since commencement of her curatorial role for Yarat in Venice, Suad Garayeva has been appointed as a Curatorial Director of YARAT Contemporary Art Centre, overseeing its permanent collection and temporary exhibition programme. Previously she worked as a curator and a specialist in Contemporary Art from Russia and the CIS at Sotheby's, London. She curated the pioneering At The Crossroads exhibition, which introduced contemporary art from the Caucasus and Central Asia in 2013, followed by At The Crossroads 2: Art from Istanbul to Kabul, in 2014. She headed up Russian and Eastern European Contemporary Art sales including Contemporary East and Changing Focus, 2013. Suad has been a long-time collaborator with YARAT, curating their pavilion at the GRID International Photography Biennale in 2012 and 2014. She has also worked on numerous international exhibitions, such as the National Pavilion of Azerbaijan at the 53rd and 54th Venice Biennales. Suad has an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy from LSE and an MLitt in Modern and Contemporary Art from the University of Glasgow.

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