His works appear in a number of world-renowned publications. Cartoonist Gunduz Agayev’s art is a mosaic of raw and emotive ruminations on Azerbaijan’s reality and the broader world. Agayev spoke to Meydan TV about his upcoming and current projects and the role of art as a vehicle for self-expression.
What are you working on now?
I have recently completed a series called “War and Peace.” I am not working on anything major at the moment, aside from local issues. I need more time to work on broader topics.
Your art has set the media abuzz, and you’ve been able to express your opinions via your work. What is your secret?
It is not too difficult for me. I mean there is no “secret ingredient” to my work. I can draw. I pursued a higher education in painting. At the same time, I observe current events closely. I am interested in what is going on in the country and around the world. When it comes to my quick response to the current events, my secret sauce is that I use an electronic tablet. At the moment, most artists, particularly illustrators, use this sort of technology. The tablet makes an artist’s life a lot easier. For instance, this includes budget, physiological effort and time. You can buy it once and use up to 3 or 4 years. You no longer need a big workshop, and there is no need to buy paint, canvas and paper each and every week or month.
On the other hand, for instance when making a mistake on a paper, I personally used to tear my work apart and throw it away. This used to stress me out causing tension and leading me to give up on work entirely. Another example is when you use oil paint on canvas, you sometimes have to wait for several days for it to dry. This is not the case with a tablet. You can quickly correct any sort of mistake. You may apply any changes and get the final result you want. In general, there are a lot of advantages to using a tablet. There were times when I worked on over 200 illustrations for a book in a single month. It is impossible to do so with regular materials.
Have you thought about venturing into writing, as a satirist, columnist or maybe a blogger?
I had a couple of writings, and they were well-received. In fact, some of my writer friends suggested that I continue writing. However, writing is a tough process for me. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I lack expertise in this field. However, when I start writing, I struggle a lot. It drains all of my energy. To tell the truth, it takes up to several days for me to get back to my senses. When it comes to painting, my dad is an artist, and I grew up in this environemnt. I have tried to change my major a few times by now, to no avail. I played chess. I tried drumming. I worked with tutors and wanted to start the military service. I later realized that drawing is closer to me than anything else. The only thing I couldn’t try was astronautics. It is impossible in our country, especially if you are from a region similar to Bilasuvar. I even wanted to become a cosmonaut. However, journalism has never crossed my mind.
You express your opinions through your art in a way that most people cannot do verbally. Is this a mode of self-expression or just your position?
I would say both self-expression and my position. Self-expression is obvious, since I am an artist. When it comes to the position part, I express it as a citizen. I will say it once again. Writing doesnt come naturally to me. I dont want to join any political parties, and I refrain from protesting on the street to avoid police batons. The only way left for me is the thing I can do - draw.
Have you been subjected to any pressure in connection with your work?
Yes, on numerous occasions. The funny part is that most of the pressure comes from my own milieu as opposed to the government.
Your work has already crossed the borders of Azerbaijan. I mean some of your works including Femidead and Peace and War have been featured in world media outlets. Were any of your internationally known cartoons solicited by someone?
I am not internationally recognized yet, but I would rather say I am on the path to it. I must continue working nonstop, with no gaps or breaks. Until my name becomes a signature, I won’t give up. I believe popularity will further help me with work. I mean it. Popularity for a creative personality goes together with the human needs along with air we breathe and water we drink. You just need to invest this joy back in your work, in order not to be deceived and be able to see things for what they truly are. I mean I have worked hard, endured a lot of hardships, and now popularity is something that was supposed to happen.
The works that drew international attention were not solicted by anyone. Moreover, I haven’t received any honorarium for those works. There is an exhibition scheduled in Holland. My works were accepted to that exhibition. I should recieve a honorarium for that. If it works out, this will be the first time I recieve money from an exhibiton. However, when I work, I don’t think about any compensation.
Your illustrations suggest that you’re a global citizen and think globally. Is that true?
I live abroad. I behave the same way as I did back home. I continue to demonstrate my citizen positions even in a wider sense of this word while away from the country. I touch upon global issues. This draws a lot of attention. I simply chose the side of justice. Although, it is far from humbleness, I have to say that my success is directly linked to all the above.
How do you manage fianancially? Are you able to sell your art? Do any media outlets pay for your illustrations?
Currently, my only source of income is from the local media outlets. I don’t have any other income apart from it. I left the country and left everything behind - my works, workshop, house, everything. In this sense, I used to be able to sell my oil paintings, but not anymore. It is all good.
[20th century Azerbaijan, 21st century Azerbaijan, 22nd century Azerbaijan]