The Dust Became the Breath
at Gazelli Art House, London
Curated by Farah Piriye
Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound…
Audre Lorde - A Woman Speaks
The Dust Became the Breath builds its narrative around the work of Aidan Salakhova, structuring a decadent discourse on cultural and sexual identity, religion and spirituality, traditional symbols, and journeys taken inward. Experimenting with implicit forms of time and memory, Aidan’s body of work elicits a sense of mysticism and transcendence, exploring the nature of feminine presence through time. The artist allows for simultaneous existence in multiple realities: internally and externally, past and present, experiencing and being experienced, while attempting to escape such constraints imposed by the principles of duality as feminine vs. masculine, consciousness vs unconsciousness, guilt vs remorse, personal vs public, presence vs absence, past struggles vs present identities, the East vs the West.
The exhibition’s title, inspired by Nizami Ganjavi’s The Treasury of Mysteries (1163), an ethico-philosophical poem aimed at moral and spiritual guidance, likens dust to the ghosts of our past, navigating personal and collective experiences while confronting the challenging aspects of our histories to examine our present identities.
Born in Moscow in 1964, Aidan paved her path in a male-dominated art scene and through the region's rigid socio-economical structures, becoming one of the most influential female figures in the Russian art scene. Graduating from the Moscow State Surikov Institute of Fine Arts, she went on to serve as a professor at the institution for over 20 years, and to become an academician at the Russian Academy of Fine Arts. In 1992, she founded the Aidan Gallery in Moscow and, having worked for years as an artist, mentor, and gallerist, grew into one of the strongest voices on the development of contemporary art in the post-Soviet environment.
Despite the constant challenges presented by censorship culture and State control, Salakhova managed to create a most radical and semiotic body of work. Her pieces deftly reflect upon the phenomenal universal and atemporal collective female character, laying a path from delicacy to strength, exploring the means by which collective consciousness and personal experiences affect our individual sense of self.
Coming from a diverse background and upbringing, Aidan melds the Eastern Islamic world with Western feminist influences. Inspired by the Persian miniature genre, with its freedom of expression, Aidan's portrayal of feminine figures—with male presence noticeably absent—plays with a multitude of meanings, primary among them is the exploration of feminine identity within an Islamic context and the position of the female within the region's established social conventions, thereby challenging the chains of hierarchy and established associations: robust and transparent masculinity vs soft and hazyfemininity.
“Georgia”, “Sophie Lerock”, and “Sophie Lerock”, the marble portrait triptych by Aidan Salakhova, reveals the contrarian quintessence of the exhibition. As the statuary Bardiglio marble, from the Italian town of Carrara, transposes its silver greys depending on the lighting, it highlights the mercurial emotional landscape of a woman, accenting her connection to the lunar cycle. "At the same time, the unbreakable nature of this natural material represents our internal strength", says Aidan. The moon, envisaged as a female entity, is no stranger to Salakhova's work, with the artist often relying on shades of gold to illuminate the dark and mysterious side of this natural satellite.
Salakhova shies away from imposing a forced narrative, insisting her work is open to interpretation: "I love it when each piece becomes part of the visitor's intimate narrative”. Her four untitled book sculptures suggest the INFOxication of society, stressing the gender misinformation targeting women in male-dominated historiography. They also serve to highlight the visible absence of female figures, along with mention of their intellectual and creative authority, in art history and culture. The artist encourages viewers to return to tactility: "To internalise the knowledge embedded within, these books must be touched,” this notion of presence in absence echoing throughout the entire show. Reinstating the unseen and unheard, Aidan's work connects us to the voices of the past, unravelling collective genetic memory.
Going beyond time and space while challenging the persistence of the patriarchy by focusing on powerful female personification, the exhibition sheds light on Salakhova’s personal experiences as untold stories and social stigmas take their rightful place in global discourse. The exhibition, akin to Audre Lorde’s poetical practice, honours women, and in an almost Sufi manner, the dichotomy of I-Other is transcended, becoming one universal non-duality.