This exhibition celebrating local women spotlights their enormous contribution to Azerbaijan

A case of female power in Baku

By Shaikh Ayaz

Published: Thu 5 Jan 2023, 11:08 PM

Azerbaijan is home to some extraordinary women achievers, as a new show of photography at the monumental Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku demonstrates. Co-curated by Emin Mammadov and Victoria Dzodziev, 17 Faces of Action celebrates 17 local women who have made their own unique contribution to their homeland. Spanning different generations and socioeconomic backgrounds — the youngest is 20 and the oldest, 100 — the emphasis here is on women who have achieved the ‘impossible’, either through sheer creativity, innovation, bravery, resilience or labour. While there are obviously images of well-known names, such as that of the chess queen Aynur Sofiyeva, on display, the highlight of the exhibition remains the overwhelming presence of women whose stories may not be so familiar to us but whose names are equally worthy of being recorded for posterity.

Take, for example, Khanum Babayeva. A skilled cotton farmer, Babayeva was awarded the USSR State Prize in 1983 for developing sustainable agricultural technologies. Or Solmaz Safarova, the Paralympic discus thrower, whose life is a testament to limitless human capabilities and perseverance. Since ancient times, Azerbaijan has been known as the centre for carpet-weaving. This popular folk-art form has been passed down generations. One of its youngest proponents is Sevinj Aliyeva. At the gallery, the talented 20-year-old weaver's photograph offers an interesting contrast — and, intriguingly, some similarities — with that of Fatma Sattarova. Recently awarded the prestigious ‘Istiglal’ Order for her heroic participation in World War II by Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan, Sattarova is 100 and remains sprightly at such a wise age. Hers is perhaps one of the most compelling narratives in this show. A military nurse, siege survivor, courageous hero, economist and saviour, this is a woman whose love for her nation and selfless service to the state is incredible. Speaking to wknd., the show’s co-curator Emin Mammadov says, “Today, women's primary role in Azerbaijan and worldwide as the creator of domestic comfort and warmth has been supplemented by other functions. Women participate in public administration, take major political decisions, develop public activities, and implement significant business projects. And whatever they undertake is done with great responsibility and heart and, therefore, receives well-deserved recognition and honour.”

Originally an initiative of Tatiana Valovaya, director-general of the United Nations Office at Geneva, 17 Faces of Action is a continuation of a concept that had been successfully showcased in Geneva before. Valovaya, who is the first woman to occupy this prestigious position, recently took to Twitter to remind us that the exhibition is “a call to action”, going on to add, “Achieving gender equality and empowering women is a collective endeavour. Only by unlocking the potential of half of the humanity we will build a peaceful, more sustainable and fair world for all.”

Interestingly, Azerbaijan is just the first global stop for this show. It will soon tour the world, to precisely 16 other countries, in the coming months. Once the globe-trotting is done, a major joint exhibition will be held in Palais des Nations at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, where all the 17 exhibitions will be rounded up for a bow — in other words, a staggering 289 portraits and stories of women from all the participating countries! The curators are optimistic that this initiative will resonate all over the globe on a ground level. Co-curator Victoria Dzodziev, who’s also the president of the Association of Swiss Women and Empowerment, a partner of UNOG, says that she hopes that the exhibit “will become not only a tribute to these outstanding women and gratitude for their activities, for their positive impact on society, but also inspire and help realise the real positive impact of many women and their actions on various spheres of life. Through this exhibition, these women become ambassadors for the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

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