TORA, An Azerbaijani artist with a heart, a smile and a social conscience.

Beyond the midst of professional culture that expresses itself through expensive venues and sleek launches, young talents sometimes spring out, simply because their work is so refreshing and vibrant that people have to stop and take notice. The young Azerbaijani Artist. TORA, falls very much in this category. As one critic put it

” In a world where the consciousness of modern man has been securely shielded from the horrors of life by the omnipresent screens, Tora masterful paintings, with their seemingly uncomplicated, peaceful, and almost merry themes, mirror this fragile protective shield while hinting at the empty abyss on the other side – a quiet before the storm.”

TORA’s work is a reaction to the society into which she was born in 1979 –  Communist, Conservative and in many ways backward. Communism has long gone, but conservatism and backwardness have deeper roots than superimposed political models. TORA’s work mocks the stereotypes, challenges the conventions, and encourages us to be understanding and tolerant.

Writing on the catalogue of her latest exhibition in Baku in November 2011 Olivier Mestelan says that

“Tora is unique, and she is double. Born under the zodiacal sign of “twins”, she plays and sometimes cultivates the paradoxes. Under a glamorous and flamboyant appearance, she is rather reserved and modest. Egerie of Baku Young Artists, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Even more than into her painting brushes, her art lies and lives in her high sensitivity. She just put her sensations and reactions on a canvas, as she could sing or play music…”

Teirmur Daimi sums up her work as follows:

“The work of Tora represents an X-ray-like snapshot of present-day spiritual reality. Despite elements of intentional frivolity, child-like cheek, surrealism, and absurdism, the style of her paintings incorporates two artistic moments from the Soviet and post-Soviet past –somber Socialist Realism, and its ironic counterpart – Soviet Pop Art.

The purpose of Socialist Realism, once the mainstream of Soviet art, was to extol the ideology of the ruling class. With its pathos and exaggerated optimism, it aimed to give ordinary Soviet people confidence in tomorrow and faith in the imminent establishment of the Communist paradise. When, in the seventies and eighties, it became clear that the promised paradise would not come and that the Soviet Union itself was a horrific, monstrous enterprise, the underground movement that came to be known as Sots Art, or Soviet Pop Art, was born, offering an ironic take on Socialist Realism while using the symbols and the style of the latter.

Tora’s playful paintings strongly invoke Soviet Pop Art with its potential for deconstruction, but target the present-day reality, where nearly all political ideologies have effectively collapsed except for the ideology of money and the actively promoted indifference to everything else. More importantly, her work, despite depicting straightforward, everyday scenes, reflects not so much the external reality as the inert, fragmented consciousness of modern man – a post-human, robot-like being, dwelling nervously in the unstable realm on the border of physical and virtual realities. In the world where the post-human consciousness has been entirely dissolved in the postmodern bog, the world where nobody is sure of anything and where the line between the material and the virtual has been all but erased, the future itself has ceased to be a definitive goal.

What is left is the “eternal today”: young, playful teenage girls with giant sexualized dolls, a pleasantly smiling cotton picker with a giant grasshopper, a nude oil worker wearing a hard hat and holding a flower, oil rigs as the symbolic reminder of painfully earned wealth and dubious prosperity – these and many other subjects of Tora’s paintings are suspended in the endlessly stretched moment of timelessness that has been rid of any meaning.”

TORA herself is quite modest about it all. “I was raised to be a musician, a pianist. But my fingers were short so I switched to painting, which at that moment seemed to be much easier” she said in an interview recently.

Her solo exhibition at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery in Pall Mall in London last year was very well received, and now it seems TORA may have a permanent base to exhibit her works in the British Capital, a very welcome development for the local art scene.

You can read more about TORA and her work on her website