Azeri artist transcends condition with flying colors

Maryam Alakbarli, a young painter from Azerbaijan, opened her exhibition “Night Music” at the Riga Bourse Gallery of the Latvian National Art Museum Thursday.

Art lovers can view more than 25 of the strikingly vivid works by Maryam, who was born in Baku with Down Syndrome, from Friday, October 31 through November 9.

Attending the opening Thursday were former President Valdis Zatlers, Minister of Culture Dace Melbarde, former Culture Minister and arts critic Helena Demakova, as well as visiting arts experts Tahir Salahov, Vice-President of the Russian Arts Academy and professor Inge Schmidt of the Berlin Academy of Arts, reported the Azerbaijan State Telegraph Agency AzerTac.

Despite suffering from the genetic disorder, an extra-chromosomal condition that causes mild to severe cognitive delays in individuals, 23-year old Maryam has developed her talent for combining bright colors into brilliant artworks thanks to the support of her family and guidance from teachers in Baku, Moscow and Paris, where she now lives in exclusive studies devoted to her creative calling.

Maryam began painting and sculpting at a very early age, attracting much attention and admiration for her abstract but emotion-laden drawings and animated compositions. She has since grown into a confident artist with a unique vision whose works have been shown beyond her hometown in hubs of the art world such as Berlin, Paris, Moscow and Rome. Her website (in French) features a gallery of her paintings and mixed-media works in batik.

Her mother Fatma Abdullazade, a mathematician, explains that the “Night Music” title is a reference to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. “She simply adores ‘A Little Night Music’, listening to it before bed, Chopin too. Then one day she began painting a series of works depicting women playing various musical instruments with such abandon you could tell she was fascinated by these figures,” she said.

Maryam taught Fatma and her husband, a physicist, that one cannot see the world simply through rational and scientific eyes.

“We sought everything. When you’re told your child will never understand quantum physics, or how an electrical current courses through wires, you start wondering: well what is it that she can do? And it turns out your child can do something else entirely,” Fatma recalls.

After her works were selected to be published as a series of postcards in Azerbaijan, Maryam’s parents realized they could help her on the path she was destined to pursue.  They sent her to art school, first in Baku, then moving her to Moscow and Paris to continue her studies.

Her father Oktay Alakbarov explains how people are so endeared to Maryam’s fresh and natural sensitivity. “She loves life, everything that’s alive, the sun, the grass, trees, people. In the rest of us alongside our good and honorable selves there can coexist an evil and jealous nature, whereas for her she simply doesn’t know these bad feelings. All she knows is love. That’s what people can feel in her works,” Alakbarov said.

“An awesome joy appears on her face while she’s working,” added her mother. “She enjoys it, she has found herself. That is the greatest gift of all, to her, to us.”

Riga Bourse Gallery curator Vita Birzaka called the young Azeri painter’s works “an unmediated and genuine delight in color.”

“Perhaps one might wish to compare her paintings to a child’s drawings from a formal aspect. But I wish to point out that this movement in art has become relevant since the 20th century – color is primary, form is secondary. Color is her most powerful expressive resource.”

Admission to Maryam Alakbarli's show costs €1.42.

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