x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The shape of a woman

Out of Body is Aidan Salakhova’s first solo show in Dubai. Containing sculptures made of Carrara marble and granite, paintings and drawings, it explores the female condition. Anna Seaman meets the artist to find out more.

A piece from Aidan Salakhova's Out of Body exhibition. Courtesy Aidan Salakhova / Cuadro Fine Art Gallery
A piece from Aidan Salakhova's Out of Body exhibition. Courtesy Aidan Salakhova / Cuadro Fine Art Gallery

The central figure in Aidan Salakhova’s exhibition is a veiled woman. Many of her paintings, drawings and sculptures contain interpretations of this figure, as well as mosques, minarets and Islamic geometric patterns. The showpiece, bathed under a spotlight in the centre of Cuadro Fine Art Gallery in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), is named Pieta and is very obviously a representation of the Christian symbol of the Madonna and child. But do not be misled: Salakhova is emphatic that this show is not about religion.

“My work is about women,” says the Russian artist, who has both Azerbaijani and Uzbek roots. “I use the woman in the veil to represent the boundary between a woman’s interior world and the face she presents to the outside. My work is about the constant dialogue that women have between these two sides. It is not about Oriental women; it is about all women.”

Many of the women in Salakhova’s paintings and the marvellous Pieta, which is an 800-kilogram marble-and-granite sculpture, have no faces at all. The only features that we are shown are the occasional flash of eyes and the almost ubiquitous long-fingered hands.

“Hands are very important to me because a woman can lie with her eyes and her body but she cannot lie with her hands,” explains ­Salakhova.

With these few snippets of information, the art suddenly springs to life. Where the paintings might have seemed two-dimensional and the sculptures, although clearly skilfully crafted, were somewhat nebulous in interpretation, they now tell a universal story. At least, that is, for a female observer.

“I am expressing some emotions that are difficult to formulate,” she says. “Most of the time women are not honest with themselves; what they want in reality is different from the choices that they make. All women feel this but men do not; they cannot understand. In that way, this show is really for women.”

The title of the exhibition – Out of Body – is intended as a direction or a solution for this condition, Salakhova explains.

“From the outside, there are so many preconceptions about the veil and the women who wear it. Usually, people in the West assume she is oppressed, but when you wear it yourself you actually feel freedom because your face is covered and you can look to the world without worrying about how you are presenting yourself within it. I called the exhibition Out Of Body, because in order to really understand your own inner voice and your own feelings, you must remove yourself from your external body or presentation.”

Alongside the black-veiled figures and their slender hands, in many works, the women are carrying a piece of white cloth, which Salakhova says represents the woman’s soul. In one painting, the blood stain from the marriage night illustrates the potential damage that a man can have upon a woman’s soul, and hanging over the whole show is a feeling of mourning, echoed through the marble tears running down the side of the gallery wall.

But Salakhova is not sad or despondent, she is just expressing a feeling that she has had all of her life.

“I come from a family of strong women,” she explains. “My grandmother was the first woman to dance on stage in Uzbekistan after the revolution in 1922 and my mother was an artist, and I know we live in a world of male concepts.

“In the past five years since I have done this work, I have certainly become more honest with myself. Maybe when others see it, they will be, too.”

• Out of Body runs until November 7 at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, DIFC