THE TIMES, The times we live in blew away a lot of friendships and kept the true ones only.
It offered a chain of tribulations that many countered by mimicry only. Only the chosen
continued on their way contradicting the time and keeping their own value of the events that
give it meaning. Vezhdi Rashidov was among them. And this happened because somewhere
back in his childhood, life pushed him up in the most significant battle for an adult – the battle
against oneself. The qualities to win it date back to his peasant mental attitude to come on top
of everything.Just eleven years of age he was deprived of tenderness. “The Nightingale of the
Rodope”, as his mother – a famous performer of Turkish songs – was affectionately called,
died.The harsh life in an orphanage was the alternative. And there you either have to come
up and be noticed or sink back in the obscurity of the crowd. He was faced with the same
dilemma coming off the train in the capital city and heading for the Art Academy.Under pressure Vezhdi made the choice of reacting back – and always win in a clash. His fighter character was shaped with “guts” and survives everything, his cross-grained approach turns him into at the same time the loved and hated personality, accepted and controversial,
but in demand in all circles because of his natural intelligence, sense of humour and self-irony, refusal to take any office in the name of preserving his own spiritual hygiene. The one which permits him to achieve the terminal freedom many only yearn for . So, having missed the games in his childhood, Vezhdi Rashidov goes early in the struggle for life, to only confess today, that he has reached the time when he can freely play in life, and what is more – to be a player in one of the most complicated games – art. And this is possible because he succeeds very early to overcome his painful sense of personal freedom, i.e. a freedom won inside his own soul, a freedom over the others.
THE TIMES, The times we live in blew away a lot of friendships and kept the true ones only.
The environment shaping up Vezhdi Rashidov is the turbulent Balkans, preserving the cultural layers of flourishing and agonizing civilizations, of confessional clashes and tolerance, breathing mythology, unmarred sensitivity and vibrant sensuousness. A region where roots are still strong, a place where whatever happens, goes through the prism of one’s own individuality.His strong desire to be among those making art at home and abroad is evident in hisearly works yet. They date back to the decade between the seventies and the eighties of the20th century, a portion of time with tendencies of art difficult to define because the result willbe misleading.This is the time of different emerging tendencies. This lack of definitiveness ofstyle is outlined within the scope of several names where it will suffice to mention Lyubomir Dalchev, Velichko Minekov, Krum Damyanov and Valentin Starchev. The common feature they all share is escape from the raw nature by segmentation of form and fragmentation of material.At the Art Academy Vezhdi Rashidov studies under prof. Dimiter Dasklov.
And in spite of these statements, made long after his first steps, the beginning of Vejdi Rashidov is marked both by the impressionist modeling of Rodin and the brittle form of the limbs characteristic of Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) and by the “animal-people” turned into ambivalent metaphors by their author Marino Marini (1901–1980). But very quickly he finds his own style, type, plastic metaphor and expression.
At the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s of the 20th century Vezhdi Rashidov starts to employ his extravagant deformations of human, animal and ornithomorphic forms with unexpected combinations of the three and multi-layer psychological suggestion. This is his way of covering the dramatic events which bear directly on both his ethnos and his active position as a Bulgarian citizen. Without leaving the general development of the art of the plastic figure in our country, he conquers a deserved ground in Bulgaria with his expressionistic deformation of form and a keen feeling for detail, and achieves what he has been aiming at since his early childhood – to be noticed.
The Step (1973 – 1980) marks the beginning of a series of determined striding figures, registering the personal determination of the sculptor to the cherished dream. A series of female heads and torsos drawings (moving replicas of his mother) embody Vezhdi Rashidov’s vision of woman as an ideal and the love between mother and son. These drawings mark the start of one of his principle lines in small-size sculpture – The Pieta.
And it seems that Vezhdi Rashidov offers us the most unusual iconography in this direction – the Mother bending over the sacrificial lamb laid in her lap. This endlessly reinterpreted scene – different variations of a mother in lament over her son, receives its own iconography with Vezhdi Rashidov – the lap turned into sacrificial altar for the Savior lamb humbly accepting fate.
Such an interpretation opens a way into something typical of the Balkan region where the centuries of coexistence of different cultures and creeds lays open the path to an unsuspected tolerance for “the other”, respect but also freedom of interpretation of the iconography canons from different cultural layers.
In these early years (1969 – 1978) another of his characteristic interpretations takes shape in his works – The Horse with a lamb’s head. The horse – this zoomorphic symbol of the sun in antiquity and symbol of Time turns, through combining and matching of forms of different animals (the body of a horse and the head of a lamb), into providential metaphor of the times we live in. More precisely the doom of time, the so-called “convulsion of time” which we cannot leave. A convulsion which imposes on us time and again the memory of Diogenes in search of an honest man (Diogenes, 2002).
The unconventional approach of Vezhdi Rashidov in treating topics exploited profusely in world art is the result of his way of thinking and behaviour, or more precisely traits of character closely related to freedom of thought which allows him precarious steps and interpretations. In this way the fear of the modern man to lose the feeling for perfection leads him to The Gate (Heaven’s Gate, 1981). This composition presents the figure of a running man fallen in front of Heaven’s gate. The originality of the approach and the definitely multilayered message in his sculptures is awarded by the Vatican Grand Prix in the name of Dante Alighieri in Ravenna (1981).
For Vezhdi Rashidov this award has exceptional value – he is noticed in Europe,
During the second half of the 80s his works acquire a dramatic specificity. The theme of the striding man is replaced by the running figure. (Escape, 1988). The new context of the environment turns the determined striding figures of the early figurines into hollow bodies – fleeing or seized by convulsions, pierced by spikes, with movements literally hampered by the ropes tightened round the flesh. The Pain (1988), The Tear (1989), Shout (1990) mark a world without directions. It is impossible even for a Centaur – a blend of the strength of horse and man, to manage an existence (Archer, 1987). In another variation of the same theme the bands-ribbons binding the body of the centaur, turn out to be fatal (The Bound Centaur, 1990). The same year his series of animal-people is enriched by people-birds. These privileged emissaries of God are again presented in an unusual way. They cannot take off in flight. Their bodies are either bound, the heads are steel-clad, or their tails are too heavy with the keys hung on them. The birds-people are a parallel symbol to the sacrificial humbleness of the lamb, although some of them have raised their beaks in inspired song. The drama served to Vezhdi Rashidov by life during the 80s of the twentieth century makes him more productive
in the direction of artistic metaphors and approaches. In these works there is something of his stunning composition Paper Cranes (1980) by which he reversed the perception of flying to the future. In it the cranes had fallen at the feet of a child looking at the firmament. One of the features of his stylistic approach is the parcellation (dismembering) of the human body – the use of the part as part of the whole. Thus in one of his small bronzes the cage contains only one head bound by ropes (1989), in another (1985) it lies on th e seat of a chair.
During the 90s Vezhdi Rashidov continues to enrich his works in the line of existential problems man is faced with. In most cases he strongly leans of Christian messages, giving them a meaning of general acceptability. In a series of drawings and small bronzes Ritual (1988 – 1994), Horseman I (a paraphrase of the Escape to Egypt), Horseman II (1994), The Lamb with Tied Legs (1994), The Lamb (the horse with the head of a lamb) he identifies The Saviour and Time as victim of human insanity and openly asks the question who sacrifices whom? If in the initial variations of the 70s and the 80s the theme of the human carrying the Agnus Dei, is more of a paraphrase of the Good Shepherd, these drawings and figures reflect the concrete drama of the crazy “humanitarian” wars on the Balkans and the later wars in the Middle East. They certify his high-grade professionalism but also carry something linked to V. Rashidov’s character which, it seems, was better appreciated abroad – his civil protest, his social conscience, the only reaction of the intellectual, of the learned and socially engaged intellectual, whose mission is anti-conformism. The hypocritical replacement of the meaning of words and actions he counters with their real essence. His sculptures were more and more saturated with elements of brutality, aggression and parts of knight armour. Some reminded of armoured cars with
spikes jutting out, pointed at whom? The ropes and the binding ribbons around the bodies were replaced by zippers opened partly by someone according his wish, but not in compliance with the desire of the person zipped. The heads are clad in more armour with jutting spikes – sabers, and Traveller (1997) and Stranger (1999) became emblematic of a move ment without direction of the tadpoles, the caravans of refugees on the Balkans. This series was the material equivalent of “the new crusaders” who carried both Christian gonfalons and elements of the a-iconic Islamic culture.
Against the background of these “new fighters” and the question of who is sacrificing whom and for what reason the series Masks came, resembling sculls crushed in battle with pieces of armour on them, and the series Beethoven’s Masks (1998 – 2000). The composer whose “Ode to Joy” which was chosen as the unification hymn of Europe, was interpreted
through spikes piercing the masks as a symbol of a new Sacrifice. With these works Vezhdi Rashidov achieved more than his childhood dream – to be noticed. He had allowed himself a complicated and ambivalent message to the constantly shrinking number of intellectuals – who is sacrificing whom and in the name of what? In this year 2000 Vezhdi Rashidov returns again to the theme of the sacrificial ram, but also to “Libra”, appealing for balance.
In fact if by the 90s Vezhdi Rashidov was a brave, distinctive and original sculptor, intelligent, taking his natural gifts to new limits, at the end of the century and even today he became not only part of Bulgarian artistic life, but I dare say – part of world artistic life, and for the Bulgarian realities of today – an organic and necessary part of the non-dormant intellectuals of the country’s society. His civil affiliations were not demonstrated at the level of social debate, but also in the choice of the personalities he chose to portray. A master of character analysis he extracts the psychological features of the chosen person without making a classical portrait. That is why I would call his portraits neo-classic.
The physical semblance is substituted by the characteristic physiognomy detail, ignoring all the rest: Yordan Radichkov (1981); Dedication to Slona – Georgi Bozhilov (1981);Georgi Trifonov (1982); Boris Dimovski (1987); Gandi (Plamen Timnev, 1995); Yoan Leviev (1981); Peter Blaskov (2000); George Ecklie (1992); Cesar (1999), etc.
In a series of self-portraits in China ink, water- colour and bronze (1984, 1988, 1997) self-irony, skepticisms and sincerity dominate in contrast to his often parodic attitudes to his own self-confidence. Self-confidence which is a fence for a captivating primary sincerity, natural talent and tenderness, rarely found together in one personality. It is not by chance that his fans define him as a controversial, hated and loved person ( Toma Tomov).
And if we have to draw a general conclusion, the best about the place of Vezhdi Rashidov in Bulgarian Art would be to say that it covers the road from the youthful hopes and illusions of his generation to the convulsions of the present (1970 – 2006). His earliest sculptures reflect his impulse to present the tenderness and the romanticism which took his generation to life, lived the transformations of these hopes into a parody of the social utopia and reached the somber conclusion of its spiritual conformism. This in reality is the path of Bulgarian Art between the 70s and the 90s of the twentieth century, a period of non-existence of unofficial, underground, alternative art, i.e. non-existence of real aesthetics dissidents of the kind inclined to real sacrifice in the name of the internal artistic freedom. But if we stay on the level of these objective facts from the view-point of the nature of the avant-garde, i.e. on the level of its existence only in open contradiction to reality, were it totalitarian or otherwise, we would not be fair enough. We would not be precise, either, because we would exclude a whole group of artists in Bulgaria – including Vezhdi Rashidov, artists who were trying, and succeeding in keeping to their own outlook on life and art, set on radical ideas and supported by the belief in the potential scope of freedom as a social phenomenon and obligatory state of the creative spirit.
So far we have covered the social stand of Vezhdi Rashidov. As a professional Vezhdi Rashidov belonged to this group of Bulgarian sculptors who concluded the process began by their predecessors (the painters and sculptors of the early sixties who made The First Youth Exhibition in 1961) – namely the release of the sculpture and small figure from the
hegemony of monumental art, servicing a strictly defined theme. With all his works he waged a sustainable battle for the right of plastic art to have its own aesthetic parameters, leaving the frontiers of conformism between art and society. In this way he fell smoothly in the wave of post-avant-garde, which found its reflection in our country in a kind of post-aesthetics as a reaction to “The Rough style” and in compliance with the growing hegemony of the individuality. So, what we see in his art is parody – so characteristic of post modernism – the use of the double game approach. And this is not characteristic of the small forms only in which he caricatures the social utopia, but also in his self-caricature (prominent in his selfportraits), a favourite theme in his art. His affinity to mythological signs in the last decade of the last century, continuing to this day, is an effort to build up a new mythology concept out of the scattered sign of traditional mythology. In this way his works induce ambivalent concepts provoking the viewer with alternatives of convulsions of the time we live in, and its hold from which we painfully try to escape, and the spark of hope which we discover with even greater difficulty.
Where is Vezhdi Rashidov’s place in Europe? If we take as a point of departure the modern European strategies, which should take shape according to the main feature of the concept of the Old Continent (respect for diversity – multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multicultural, and multi-religious), then his contribution is indisputable. He is one of the people adding to the diversity of the continent in a cultural aspect, a diversity based on a singular wisdom pertaining to old civilizations: the realization of the highest vocation given to man – his individual uniqueness and respect for the characteristics of any traditional culture. This wisdom is outside the pursuit of uniformity, a product of “young” cultures, or a sign of their deeply concealed inferiority complex at all that is created so far.
At the moment there is more and more in evidence a critical outlook, symptoms of doubt, to the basic postulates of modernity defined a century ago and finalized in The Bauhaus Manifesto (Walter Gropius, 1883 – 1969) in 1919, skepticism to “reverence to the beauty of functionality”, or an object is beautiful and functional if it sells well, skepticism to the defined philosophy of standardization which meant that the artists’ strength lies in their flexibility to the consumer, i.e. the market. This philosophy was never strictly applied in the Balkans – the egion where Vezhdi Rashidov was shaped up as an artist. And it is not because there never were objective conditions to experience at the same time, and not post factum, the principle movements in modern art. There were no conditions in the Balkans region and culture to appear Marcel Duchamp’s “ready-made” and this may prove to be one of the greatest chances for the artists of the region. For them, even for the minority who were well acquainted with the European processes and had lived in European capitals, avant-garde was always more of a historic fact in the framework of artistic life. In this part of the world the canonic concept of the esthetic has always been equated with truth, and this is valid with little exception even today. The so-called “Bulgarian transformism” (P. Restani, Izkustvo, 1996, pp. 38-40) even with its best samples shows differences with the European styles of the 30s and 40s of the 20th century. This “a-synchrony” with the dictate of fashion by the world centres, characteristic of the cultural development of the periphery, saved Bulgarian artists from the self-skeptic attitude of world culture to its own development and, hence, to its future. And this is so because art in the Balkan region and in the East is still perceived as a purpose and hope much more than as a means of exchange and a commodity. In a nutshell – art did not abandon its foremost mission of generating spiritual messages.
In this register of thinking the safeguarding of one’s own voice, of the characteristic traits of sensitivity and artistic expression, is of special value in a multi-faced Europe. The local colour and vitality, the local myth – inherent to any art, makes the composition of the jig-saw puzzle of multi-faced Europe. And the presence of Vezhdi Rashidov in the sculpture
collections of the big museums and private galleries all over the world is a proof of what is highly valued in the contemporary world of art. And this is his skill to remain in the framework of the figurative tendency with a Roman exquisiteness of detail, i.e. to preserve the plasticity even when he de-segments the form and fragments the material, to preserve the lyricism and the expressiveness even in his most dramatic achievements. And something else, his works are vibrant with social tension. They are the fruit of human emotion, of a living sensitivity, they do not carry the traits of institutionalizing, and this, I dare claim, is not limited to the last two decades of his creative life. It is not a whim that in every stone Vezhdi Rashidov sees a human head, figure, smile or tear. For him creating art is the most beautiful lie, which a person cannot live without and an artist cannot do without in his work. And if this artist knows when to stop in this infinite game, then he has read God’ s sign.
June 25, 2006, Varna