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Cartoonist Elman Mirzayev reaches a new stage in international competitions

Cartoonist Elman Mirzayev is a man of a few words and is slightly bashful about being in the spotlight. This is no wonder because Elman is a modest man used to speaking in his own language, speaking succinctly, transparently and, most importantly, with wit and humour. His is the language of cartoons, where there is no room for words. The artist’s art is multifaceted and fascinating. He began drawing cartoons in 2005, prior to which he was involved in painting, miniatures and graphics. There was also an amazing piece of work with puppets at the


 famous Buta puppet theatre. After seeing Elman’s puppets and being amazed by his accurate rendition of images and characters, the legendary Georgian writer, playwright, artist, puppeteer and venerated artist of Georgia, the artistic director of the Tbilisi puppet theatre, Revaz Gabriadze, promised the head of the Buta theatre that he would do his best to lure Elman to his theatre. However, the famous Georgian was categorically turned down.“We will not give away an artist like him,” the man ‘difficult to refuse’ was told. And that was the right decision, because cartoonist Elman, now a prize-winner of many international exhibitions, is the pride of our country. His name was, along with five other Azerbaijani artists, included in a catalogue compiled after an award at an international competition on the subject of “Wine and love”, recently held in Stuttgart, Germany. Elman’s cartoon was among the best 150, selected from a total of 3,000. His wit and sense of humour were among the 100 best cartoons included in the catalogue prepared after the international cartoonists’ biennale held in France in 2008, after the jury had reviewed 2,000 words. Mirzayev has twice been included in the catalogues of the World Press Cartoon competition. The list of his achievements could go on.
However, Elman does not participate in international projects for fame and recognition. We should not forget that artists are public figures who simply have to satisfy their main craving – to show the world what has been said and done, to share their views. Unlike many others, the artist does what he loves to do, even though his calling has not brought him any special privileges, given the lack of regular cartoon publications and almost total lack of professional exhibitions in Azerbaijan. It is very difficult for Elman to keep his talent and potential “locked”.


Also very important to him is representing his country in honourable fashion. “Each one of us should do something for our country. I consider this my duty.” For this reason, he has to express and develop himself away from “home”, albeit mostly in virtual arenas - Elman cannot afford to take part in foreign competitions. Neither can the Azerbaijan Union of Cartoonists, of which he is a member. “The Union, established in 2006, has done much to keep this disappearing genre afloat. It has brought cartoonists together and I am very happy that many of our artists take part in international exhibitions. However, our cartoonists are working out of pure enthusiasm. We are not making money, because there is no market for cartoons in Azerbaijan. In Europe, for example, the genre is very popular and cartoons are in demand.”
Despite the difficulties, the artist, driven by his heart and talent, keeps on doing what he likes most. In the 1980s Elman worked first as an artist and then as a stage director at the Jabbarli film company. “I was drawing characters for Azerbaijani cartoons. In Soviet times Azerbaijani animated cartoons were among the best and won many international competitions.” Asked whether he would return to animation, the artist replied without hesitation, “No”. “I am immersed in cartoons. Sometimes ideas emerge spontaneously, in the street. Cartoons appear first in the heart, then the idea and details appear in the head, and only after that is everything transferred onto paper.” Why? Because there is so much to say. There are theme-based cartoons, mostly political, which are made to order. More often cartoons are dictated by life itself. Sometimes one becomes so frustrated that laughing is the only thing left to do. What is usually mocked? Mainly vice, injustice and lies. There is certainly plenty of humour around us. “Cartoons for me are a way of expressing my ideas, a funnel which, once you fall in, you can’t escape,” Elman says, his face beaming because we are talking about his most important work.
It all started with schoolbooks in which he, despite the strict ban on drawing on textbooks, transformed theme-based illustrations into sweet and funny faces. “I noticed that they were funny not just to me. The friends I showed them to couldn’t help laughing. Then I started making some kinds of grotesque images and even animated cartoons. Then I drew my own part of the then popular “Just you wait!” animated cartoon. It was amazing that many of the ideas I created in that part were subsequently used in new episodes of the cartoon.” Astonishing foresight. Elman has repeatedly noticed this trait in his work, mainly in political cartoons. Quite often things have happened the way he had previously portrayed them. “This is amazing, even to me. It happens quite often. Apparently it is information sent to earth by Allah. Perhaps to warn us against something. It is difficult to say for sure.”
Elman is sure that cartoons make us kinder and more tolerant. “Unfortunately, many people don’t have any idea of the veiled nature of this genre. At the same time, while looking through a political magazine, for example, many readers will stop at a story with a cartoon. Firstly, to look at it in detail. Secondly, to read the material, to find out whether the point of the cartoon corresponds to the publication. If it does, whether the cartoon and the idea behind it is funny. This is very important. Besides, many acknowledge that cartoons ease the stress brought on by a political story and a reader begins to think: ‘Things may be a lot simpler than they appear’. And so it is impossible to overestimate the function and importance of cartoons in our lives, and I am very surprised that local periodicals – newspapers and magazines – turn to it so rarely,” says the cartoonist.
An original idea is the first thing to be assessed in the international competitions which Elman has won repeatedly. “A cartoon should be noted for its specificity, it should make people laugh and the idea behind it should not repeat those in other cartoons by the creator. Cartoons should not repeat the ideas of others, either. It is very difficult to do this because the cartoonist might think that this idea had not been expressed before. Sometimes it turns out that a similar idea has already been brought up by someone else. Thus, despite the seeming simplicity, cartoons are a very difficult genre. We should also remember that political cartoons may even change the course of developments – suffice to remember the global repercussions of the cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. Thus a cartoonist has to consider not only the situation in the world, but also human ethics while participating in international competitions and publications.”
Today Elman’s cartoons can be found in catalogues and cartoon museums, as well as in the virtual museums of countries which have hosted competitions, festivals and biennales – Spain, Japan, Greece, Israel, Korea, Turkey, China, Iran, England, Switzerland, the USA and many others. Elman is very proud of his victories. One of his favourite cartoons is a simultaneous display of billiards which took third prize in the 7th “Independence” international cartoon competition in Ukraine. The subject of the competition was billiards. “I am very honoured because the Ukrainian school of cartoons is considered to be the best in the CIS. The first two prizes are usually won by Ukrainians and my third prize was a great surprise.” In August 2008, Elman Mirzayev won a special UNESCO award for the third time. “The international side of my life began with Israel, where a competition was held in Haifa in 2005 on the subject of transport. I won my first UNESCO award there. The second one was won in the “Artist” section of a competition called “Message to the world”, held in Spilimbergo, Italy, in 2007. When I participate in events away from home, I often draw grotesque images and present them to other participants. One such image was presented to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. I can tell you that the cartoon genre is being revitalized with competitions being held regularly. In fact, Grand Prix prizes are also quite significant – around Euro 20,000. Let’s hope that Azerbaijani cartoonists win this prize and continue to glorify Azerbaijan around the world,” says Elman Mirzayev.
Care. This is what talented people desperately need – fighters for ideas who support themselves by enthusiasm and incredibly hard work. Elman is sure that the Soviet stereotype of an artist creating masterpieces only when engaged in a struggle for existence, should be cast into oblivion, as is the case in many parts of the world. “We need support and promotion. It is necessary to make this world a little kinder, thus it is in everyone’s interests.” What does a cartoonist in Azerbaijan dream of? Of opening a cartoon shop, some sort of a club where all talented cartoonists could display and sell their works. And one more thing. It turns out that it is impossible to learn to draw cartoons. There has to be talent.
Baku/By Sabira Mustafayeva      

23 Mayıs 2009 Cumartesi 22:50 / elman mirzoev-emir 

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