Ashraf Murad (1925-1979) is one of the great masters of Azerbaijani art in the twentieth century. He made a significant contribution to the development of the culture and became a real source of inspiration for future generations of artists. In his native Azerbaijan he was never officially recognised during his lifetime, and his first posthumous exhibition wasn’t held until 1984. We now know him as a sensitive realist painter who underwent oppressive persecution under the Soviet Union. As a result he shifted his style towards narrative paintings which became dramatic and melancholic, suggesting defiance against the repressive ideology of the state.
Socialist realist painting was established in 1934 and limited all forms of experimentation and political critique, which of course affected the artistic climate to which Murad belonged. After Stalin’s death there was more space for developing avant-garde and modernist practices, and engaging with Western influences, and Murad was a key participant in this development. After a mysterious and unfortunate altercation with Soviet police during which Murad suffered injury, his artwork shifted into a darker more dissident phase. His palette veered towards dark tones, and he began to use sly symbolism to indirectly refer to the Soviet regime in subtle protest. Because of the suppressive political backdrop Murad sadly died impoverished and overlooked, but his genius and impact on Azeri art culture is retrospectively acknowledged.