It’s Not About Religion! Aidan Salakhova’s First Middle East Solo Show Comes To Cuadro Gallery

It took a really long time to get to interview Aidan Salakhova about ‘Out of Body,’ her solo show at Cuadro Gallery, but I didn’t mind at all. I found her at Zuma in DIFC eating a 4pm lunch, famished from back to back press appointments, surrounded by gallerists, collectors, a model, an assistant, and old friends. I found the scene fascinating and made like a fly on the wall, taking it all in as part of my education in the art world. Although she is happy to be known as a socialite and tweets back and forth with longtime friend Naomi Campbell, when we finally got a few moments for our “girl talk” as she called it, Aidan came across as genuine and down to earth.

 'Retrieval' (Diptych), Golden Acrylic and Pencil on Canvas. 2012.

‘Retrieval’ (Diptych), Golden Acrylic and Pencil on Canvas. 2012.

'Retrieval' (Diptych), Golden Acrylic and Pencil on Canvas. 2012.

‘Retrieval’ (Diptych), Golden Acrylic and Pencil on Canvas. 2012.

‘Out of Body’ is Salakhova’s first exhibition in the Middle East, includes paintings and drawings, and features sculpture that took three years to complete in Italy and weigh more than 1 ton apiece. The show brings together the tradition of Persian miniatures with the sculpture techniques associated with Renaissance masterpieces. The technical quality of the show is overwhelming. The series of 25 ‘Persian Miniatures’ follows a group of fully covered women moving in funeral-like procession, carrying pure white bundles resembling corpses. I interpreted the bundles to be the weight of their own souls. The mood of the show is one of loss. Even though I couldn’t see their faces, I grew attached to these characters and concerned about where they were headed and the dark fate that lay in store for them.

'Pieta' From Series Predestination, Granite and Marble. 2013

‘Pieta’ From Series Predestination, Granite and Marble. 2013

Aidan opened our discussion by pronouncing that, “This is a show for women, not men. It’s a dialogue between your intimate inner self and public your outer self that you show to the world. Women wear masks and 90% of them are not honest with themselves about who or what is underneath.” Society’s expectations have had this effect on women, but as ‘Out of Body’ presents, we are each the ultimate keepers of our own soul and have the choice to reclaim it and tear away the mask that is covering our face. ‘Out of Body’ continues Salakhova’s obsession with women’s hands found in previous exhibitions. She understands hands as often betraying the heart: “I don’t show faces because a woman can lie to everyone with her eyes, but if you pay attention to her hands, they are truly honest. She can even cover them in gloves and yet they still show what she is really feeling.”

'Untitled' (Persian Miniature Series) Ink, Acrylic and Pencil on Paper. 2011

‘Untitled’ (Persian Miniature Series) Ink, Acrylic and Pencil on Paper. 2011

Although the women’s coverings resemble to burqa, Aidan insisted to me that, “this is not about religion or the Oriental woman.” I was dubious. Until we spoke, I didn’t understand why she selected imagery and colors attributed to Islamic dress other than to add an element of shock value to the work. During our interview, it became clear to me that she was using the coverings as a way to explore themes that apply to women universally. She told me about an experiment she conducted in which she wore niqab (the black hijab and abaya that only leave the eyes exposed, often referred to in conversation by the derogatory term of ‘ninja style’) for one day. Surprisingly, she discovered that “When you cover yourself from the outside you begin to feel more freedom from outside pressures. I felt anonymous and able to look at everyone the way I wanted without them realizing. It was a big surprise for me to feel so free and comfortable. I didn’t have to dress up or put on makeup.”

Portrait of the artist Aidan Salakhova

Portrait of the artist Aidan Salakhova

Good Ideas: ‘Out of Body’ will be at Cuadro Gallery in DIFC through 7 November, 2013. For timings and additional information go here.

You can follow Aidan Salakhova on her public Facebook page here.

Image Credits: Courtesy of Cuadro Gallery and Aidan Salakhova