BY NARMIN RZAYEVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
I find the stories behind brands and businesses the most exciting. During my meeting with Sabbikha Khankishiyeva, a founder of “Sabikhan”, I am especially impatient to hear one; even though the brand is very young – only founded last year – it already holds its own niche in the market for handmade goods in Baku.
“Ever since I was a young girl…” Sabbikha tells me over a cup of tea and a dessert, “I had this wild obsession over art. I even remember how my mum forced me to take music classes, which I would have given up in a heartbeat to spend some time in an art studio.” She shows me some of her works in “Sabikhan” – beautifully painted hand-made ceramic plates, reminiscing Oriental motives and traditional Azerbaijani carpets.
Sheer talent is never enough – Sabbikha proves it with her own example. She completed her undergraduate and graduate studies majoring in ceramics in The Academy of Fine Arts and pursued further development by attending the courses of The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, brought to Baku with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, that plays a major role in Azerbaijan in encouraging and contributing to the art sphere.
“The institution itself was established in London, but, with the help of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, its courses were brought to Baku. They were held in the Old City – quite symbolic, considering we’re talking about traditional arts!” Even though Sabbikha opened her own brand, she was never detached from the academic world; she now teaches ceramics in Sabah Groups Education Center.
“I have always been in love with ceramics. This passion, along with my aesthetic worldview, defined me and pushed me in its own way towards opening my own brand.” Indeed, her worldview affects “Sabikhan” in the most direct way.
“It all starts with inspiration. I might notice something unusual in the ornaments of the carpet at home, I might get inspired from a piece of art in a museum, from a historic event, from flora and fauna. After the idea is being formed, I start sketching. The hardest thing about the process is proportion and precision – just like the Asian art of Mandala. I try to combine my talent with knowledge in geometry and mathematics to create a harmonious and balanced piece of art. Harmony is the main message behind “Sabikhan” – the balance between art and craft, ceramics and painting, East and West, precision and creativity. Another message I try to reflect in my works is love. Love has many faces – love for nature, love for family, love for art, patriotic love, romantic love. I try to combine them all in my art – and I expect my customers to fall in love with the pieces they acquire.”
We pause our conversation for a while to pour some more tea, and proceed with a discussion about the sudden boom of handmade brands in Azerbaijan.
“It is, indeed, exciting! Baku nowadays lives through its “boom” period, where new players in the fields of art and fashion emerge almost every day. I personally think, that the more, the merrier. The market with heated competition is known to develop faster; it is a rule of economics. I personally think, that the field of ceramics in Baku has room to progress; we are stuck nowadays with this so-called “souvenir industry” where low-quality ceramic wares, produced by amateurs, are mostly associated with artisanal work, rather than a piece of art. We try to escape this tendency and stereotype in “Sabikhan” – both with our ideology and technology. We use professional equipment, mainly produced abroad and have a completely different approach, which allows us to hold a completely different niche. One of the hardest tasks we’ve had to undergo is making sure every piece of our work is exclusive and unique for each client. I can say we succeeded: one of these unique pieces was once gifted to Prince Charles himself!”