Shahnaz Aghayeva

Breathing Underwater

How do we make sense of reality when we know that everything is relative? Painters are not the ones who tell what is real and what is fantasy, but the ones who find the golden ratio between the two.

Shahnaz Aghayeva

Meet Shahnaz Aghayeva

Career Highlights

Major Solo & Group Shows

Galerie Dix9, Yugen Collective, Sapar
Contemporary Art, Chants d’amour, Sebök
Margit Galeri, Gala Museum Complex, YAY
Gallery, Yarat Contemporary Art Centre,
Sumgayit State Art Gallery

Biennials, Festivals & Art Fairs

Baku International Contemporary Art Biennale, Print Biennale Taiwan, International Virtual Engravist Printmaking Biennale, Contemporary Istanbul, LIfeNstile International Print Festival, International Art Festival in Gala Museum, Guanlan International Print Biennial


Female Portrayal
Gender and Gender Roles
Human Psychology


Performance Art

Breathing Underwater

The pursuit of equality is imbued with suffering and struggle. Women internationally strive for equality in the eyes of their societies through protests and activism. Shahnaz Aghayeva, a painter and printmaker, mobilizes her artistic practice to empower women.

As an artist from Azerbaijan, Aghayeva engages her artistic voice to share previously silenced stories. The ability to tackle social issues such as gender and gender roles becomes a form of activism for the artist. Her work challenges the way women are perceived and treated by familial, social, and governmental regimes that seek to retain a patriarchal hierarchy.

Breathing Underwater centers around the print works within Aghayeva’s artistic practice. The collection of etchings and woodblock prints illuminate the challenges, the subjugation, and yet the power of being a woman.

Portrait with My Fish, 2020
Woodcut (Aluminum Foil) - Edition 4/4
100 x 80 cm I 39.4” x 31.5”

Portrait with My Fish

This portrait introduces Aghayeva’s use of fish as a symbol of indecision. A woman’s face is obscured by this visual metaphor and surrounded by two elongated breasts. Drawing on Aghayeva’s interest in the impact women have made on the fields of science and medicine, the piece highlights the courage of women to embrace their ability to achieve things not expected of them.

Uncertainty, 2020
Woodcut (Bronze foil) - Edition 2/2
90 x 72 cm I 35.4” x 28.3”


In this woodcut bronze foil print, a woman, consumed in a web of flowing hair, struggles to break free and find herself. While the waves of hair match the sensual curvatures of the body, Aghayeva subverts the sexualization of the female form as this aspect of feminine beauty entangles the woman of Uncertainty in an inescapable prison. The woman fights for control as she combs through her locks but to no avail.

Gülendam, Mona Leyli, 2019
Woodcut - Edition 2/2
100 x 80 cm I 39.4” x 31.5”

Gülendam, Mona Leyli

This woodcut print refers to the name Gülendam, which translates as a smiling girl. The name itself is antiquated; more so, the name represents an impossibility as many women are often shamed for laughing out loud and for expressions of joy in parts of the world today. This everyday woman in Aghayeva’s print not only smiles in defiance of the outdated standards and expectations of womanhood, but displays her nude body, tattoos, and cigarettes in open retaliation to the attempts to strip women of their free will.

Creativity is neither a beginning nor an end. Creativity is a process.

Shahnaz Aghayeva

Untitled, 2022
Aluminium Etching (Hahnemühle Paper) - Edition 1/10
45 x 30 cm I 17.7” x 11.8”


In this aluminum etching, flamingos become symbols of a burdensome ideal of femininity. Caught in a womb-like form, the women within this work are trapped. The piece mirrors the externalized pressures that force women to continually make concessions, sacrificing their identities, when all they seek is liberation.

Choice is Made I, 2021
Aluminium Etching (Hahnemühle Paper)
Edition 1/10
27 x 40 cm I 10.6” x 15.7”

A Choice is Made

The symbolism of the fish continues into her series A Choice is Made. This set of three etchings features contorted organic forms encapsulating a woman intimately embracing a fish. A tumultuous battle for control, these works demonstrate the struggle of women to choose for themselves, have control over their own lives, and possess their own sense of identity.

Choice is Made II, 2021
Aluminium Etching (Hahnemühle Paper)
Edition 1/10
27 x 35 cm I 10.6” x 13.8”

Choice is Made III, 2021
Aluminium Etching (Hahnemühle Paper)
Edition 1/10
27 x 35 cm I 10.6” x 13.8”

On a journey for tolerance and understanding, Aghayeva unearths the often-internalized struggles of women in her community. Through the beauty and turmoil encapsulated within these unusual scenes, she offers a radical alternative to societal complacency with the treatment of women today. With each mark she makes, she stands in defiance of the systemically-ingrained oppressive notions of femininity.

About Shahnaz Aghayeva

Shahnaz Aghayeva’s works focus on the female experience. Using bold imagery, the artist’s works reflect women’s search for identity and sexual liberty, and question the way in which women are treated within society.

Having graduated from the State Academy of Arts of Azerbaijan with a Master’s Degree in 2010, Aghayeva is currently living and working among Baku, Istanbul and Bodrum, and attends artist-residencies around the world. Her works range from painting and prints to performance and sculpture.

The artist has had solo and group exhibitions in prominent institutions and art fairs internationally. Working together with children with psychological problems, Aghayeva founded Masterkids, a charitable art club for children alongside participating in printmaking workshops for her community.

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