Raoef Mamedov · The Silence of Maria

Raoef Mamedov, The Silence of Maria, photography, polyptych, edition 9

The mysterious silence of God.

Rauf Mamedov’s works, both exciting and profound, can be likened to philosophic, poetic and ethical treatises in visual mode. The topic of human life’s uniqueness, a concept that cannot be expressed in a set of preconceived notions, is central to his projects. The artist invites viewers to fearlessly touch the depths of being, where one can be alternately saved or destroyed, to address the one and only “true self” and find oneself in God. All his works are based on an universal concept of embracing the Other, an act that gives one courage to love and answer the question of who are we to each other, and who are we at the face of God.
In his projects Mamedov works with people marked with a special sign – the Down syndrome. They are absolutely bereft of aggression, anger, hate, envy. The do not fear death. Down syndrome patients retain a child’s view of the world, even if not by personal choice. Their faces are always full of joy. And a sudden ray of hope transcends the circumstances of tragedy, loneliness, death: man’s wounded soul always aspires to an impossible but real happiness. Down syndrome patients have a predominantly quotational conscience. They are subject to states of insight and irony. They give Rauf’s photographs the power to demand something important from the viewer, mainly to make the viewer think and feel, love and sympathize. Rauf Mamedov employs Biblical subjects in all of his works. In christianity the inherent contradictions of human nature serve a purpose thanks to God’s presence. But in Mamedov’s works religious intuitions are a way to implement the main concept: historical events that have happened long ago are closely related to contemporary humans. A person’s feelings are the same in every era. Love, commitment, devotion, faith were born with our world, as were jealousy, envy, treachery and disbelief.
“Last Supper” positions the liturgy and explains the relations of a person to God and other people. We live this event anew to this day, every day, in different ways. “Games On Windowsills” suggest that a person schould get rid of conscience crises, that force us to believe and act according to the gift of wonder, and send away the clowns who play scenes resembling the sacred supper, so there would be no painful feelings because of our eternal indifference. In “Pieta” the viewer, “we”, “operate” on the Author, trying in vain to understand His structure to make a decision as to believe Him (and in Him) or not. The apostles, lovers and a crippled girl meet the reborn Christ in the “Supper At Emmaus”. The scenes are decorated in the style of 1950-60s, and the fashions of the protagonists also follow that era. Large tableaux comprised of nine photographs directly shows that a person’s spiritual life is not tied to history. Important details convey a kind of a poetic mood: A pink flamingo, discarded glasses, lights are low in the hall, a ice rink is seen partly from the window, the curtains are heavy… This selection of images that we call “poetic” shows processes in time and helps to form a distinct atmosphere. Silence in the loving heart is an eternal sign of love. We see this sign in Mamedov’s new project, “The Silence Of Maria”, where a poetic form gets a special dynamic treatment. Again, the artist turns to the Gospels. We see “The Flight To Egypt”. Only St. Matthew left a description of this episode from the life of the Holy Family: “When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod” (Matthew: 15-14)” “First of all we must understand”, wrote Goethe in his treatise “Antique and modern”, “the importance of the subject itself, a story of a promising child, a descendant of an ancient royal family, who is to be enormously influential worldwide – his influence will make the old disappear and the new triumph, a boy who escapes and is saved with God’s help in the arms of his extremely committed mother and guarded by a caring old man. Different episodes of this important event were depicted hundreds of times, and many artworks on this topic often excite us”. We can think of a long row of paintings connected to this episode: A Giotto fresco in Padua, Jacopo Bassano’s painting in Bassano’s City Museum, Annibale Caracci’s “Rest During The Flight Into Egypt” in a Parisian collection, Murillo’s painting on the same subject, Van Dyke’s “Holy Family With Partridges”, Jan Breugel the Elder’s “Forest Edge”. Many Russian icons contain the composition as part of their framework. Many poets of different epochs dedicated their works to this episode. Mamedov calls his polyptych “The Silence Of Maria” and introduces a different set of interpretations to the subject. Virgin Mary riding a mule, the Child She holds in Her arms, Joseph leading the mule – the choice of protagonists does not diverge from the canon. The procession’s movement is from the left to the right side of the picture. But the scenery is that of a desert instead of a more traditional forest landscape. The desert has a quite different set of meanings in Christianity. It is the place where God’s people are born and Exodus happens. In the Bible the desert is a temporary walk-through by a people or a person in search of life in the promised land, not a return to an ideal loneliness or a fruitless escape from the living. The desert is a place of repentance and ordeal, of silence, salvation and conversing with God. Mamedov’s desert is a lyrical place “provided by heavens for a miracle”, the wind there “is strong as can be only in winter”, it is one of the main actors, a living organism that guards, provokes and cleanses. The protagonists recover their inner truths in it and with it. The silence of Maria, who saved words and “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19) is understated and full of mystery. Her silence echoes the sonic vacuum of the desert but at the same time it is full of knowing what will happen to her and the child. A young woman has responded with a “fiat” to an angel and by doing this negated the catastrophic “no” of Eve… Maria is called to give birth to the Son of God, she is summoned to the mystery of creation, she will change the course of history. But for now she has to save her Child from bloodthirsty Herod, slowly moving alongside Joseph through mist, wind and rain. The endearing image of Joseph! He is one of the most striking protagonists of the Gospels. Of course he is also not of this world. Rauf dresses him in a straitjacket, ironically hinting that people often consider those who think and act differently to be mad. But the straitjacket is not tied, and a long sleeve hangs down heartbreakingly and touches the desert sand. The line of this sleeve underlines Joseph’s helplessness before Mary’s power of knowledge, faith and courage. Joseph has become the head of the Holy Family. He did not choose this path himself, he was shown to it. But there is a lot of courage to accept a life with a girl in possession of a mystery, a person chosen by God. Joseph, a kind soul! He follows angel’s direction with exemplary obedience of commitment and responsibility for his family.
Following the tradition, Mamedov introduces elements from apocryphal writing. In the second and the third diptychs we see a boy who closes the procession. He is Jacob the Younger, brother of God, future bishop of Jerusalem who will have died a martyr. His presence in this story is important to create a harmonious composition and to give Maria a more complex image. Jacob and Joseph are close to Maria, but do not partake in the mystery. The unity of Jacob and Joseph and their independence of Maria are stressed in the last section of the polyptych, where they sit pressed against each other, sad and tired in their loneliness, under a cloth to hide from the rain. Maria is doing quite the opposite: she opens herself and the child to the purifying rain. Here, as in other works, Mamedov employs meaningful details that are meant to be thought about and pondered at. Why are they here? What purpose do they serve? In what ways do they help the composition? Jacob, for example, has a bell on his leg. The bell is needed to navigate the unknown space, it helps to find way in the desert. It also breaks the silence for it to contain a sound instead of being sonically grim. This element conveys the presence of danger and fear. But these sensations are for Jacob and Joseph. Mamedov “depicts” sound only once, when the boy opens his mouth to cry, afraid to lose his people. Still we “hear” the thin sound of the bell and even the squeak of mule’s skeleton. The animal could not wait for the miracle to happen and remained but a name, a circle of dust. The snow also squeaks under these pilgrims. “Night. The rustling of the snowfall” – that is how Joseph Brodsky describes the sounds of the scene. But the sounds in out imagination do not terminate the silence and the knowledge, obedience and pride, the silence of a miracle and the silence of Beauty that makes us gasp for words.

Nelli Podgorskaya