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Plan II senior Blair Robbins and radio-television-film senior Santiago Dietche perform at La Peña art gallery Sunday evening. The gallery features photographs by Rena Effendi’s “Liquid Land — Land of Fire” series, which will be showcased at La Peña art gallery during South By Southwest.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Glen Dolfi, the curator of La Peña’s latest art exhibit, is bringing Azerbaijan to Texas. 

The multimedia exhibition is a combination of photographs by Azeri photographer Rena Effendi, Azeri music and archival footage shot in Azerbaijan by French filmmaker Vincent Moon and radio-television-film senior Garson Ormiston. 

Dolfi said the artists he met during his travels to Azerbaijan captivated him. He knew he had to bring their unrecognized talents to America. 

“There are a lot of imaginative, creative people sort of hidden away,” Dolfi said. “Many people here don’t know anything about it.” 

Dolfi said the artists come together to represent a poetic voice from a relatively unknown country. The photo series, titled “Liquid Land — Land of Fire,” compiles Effendi’s portraits of Azeri people and images of regional butterflies that Effendi’s father took.  

“This is not just a photojournalism project; this is a connection from the area that [Effendi] grew up in,” Dolfi said. “She has this loving connection to her father, his work and photographs that were never published in his lifetime.” 

In addition to the photographs, a number of musical artists from Azerbaijan will perform at the gallery during South By Southwest. Qarabagh Ensemble and Qaraqan, who will perform at an official SXSW showcase of artists that perform traditional Mugham folk music, will take part in the exhibit. 

In an effort to make the exhibit interactive, Effendi’s printed photographs will hang along the north wall of the gallery and in trees surrounding the gallery — free for the taking. 

Dolfi said “Liquid Land” stands out in SXSW’s increasingly commercialized climate. The project seeks to offer personal art that aims to bridge a gap between two communities isolated from one another, according to Dolfi. 

“We’re bringing an international exhibit with international music to an international festival,” Dolfi said. “I think it’s a really positive step for the city of Austin and for La Peña to have the vision to bring international art.” 

Ormiston filmed Azeri musicians when he traveled the country last summer. His footage will play in the gallery alongside the photographs and music performances. He said the archival footage acts as a window into an unseen world. 

“I think it’s more like visual poetry. The way we shot it, it’s like a postcard of Azerbaijan,” Ormiston said. “It’s a way to show the culture, sites and sounds. It’s supposed to give you a sense of what the country’s like in a broad stroke.” 

UT’s Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and the Center for Middle Eastern studies are co-sponsoring the event. Mary Neuburger, director at the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, said the center supports the effort to inform people about the rich culture of Azerbaijan. 

“Exposure to these powerful images connects us to distant realities, like the Azeri one, that both differ dramatically from our own, and yet, in their enduring humanity, are also deeply familiar.” Neuberger said. 

In this March 7, 2007, file photo, the Israeli army Heron TP drone, also known locally as the Eitan, flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israeli defense officials on Sunday confirmed $1.6 billion in deals to sell drones as well as anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, bringing sophisticated Israeli technology to the doorstep of archenemy Iran.

The sales by state-run Israel Aerospace Industries come at a delicate time. Israel has been laboring hard to form diplomatic alliances in a region that seems to be growing increasingly hostile to the Jewish state.

Its most pressing concern is Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli leaders have hinted broadly that they would be prepared to attack Iranian nuclear facilities if they see no other way to keep Tehran from building bombs.

Iran denies Israeli and Western claims it seeks to develop atomic weapons, and says its disputed nuclear program is designed to produce energy and medical isotopes.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Iran’s nuclear program will take center stage in his upcoming talks with U.S. and Canadian leaders. Netanyahu is to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa on Friday and with President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.

Speaking to the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said a U.N. nuclear agency report last week buttressed Israel’s warnings that Iran is trying to produce a nuclear bomb. The agency said Iran has rapidly ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium over the last few months.

Netanyahu said the report provided “another piece of incontrovertible evidence” that Iran is advancing rapidly with its nuclear program.

It was not clear whether the arms deal with Azerbaijan was connected to any potential Israeli planes to strike Iran. The Israeli defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not at liberty to discuss defense deals.

Danny Yatom, a former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, said the timing of the deal was likely coincidental. “Such a deal ... takes a long period of time to become ripe,” he told The Associated Press.

He said Israel would continue to sell arms to its friends. “If it will help us in challenging Iran, it is for the better,” he said.Israel’s ties with Azerbaijan, a Muslim country that became independent with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, have grown as its once-strong strategic relationship with another Iranian neighbor, Turkey, has deteriorated, most sharply over Israel’s killing of nine Turks aboard a ship that sought to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010.

For Israeli intelligence, there is also a possible added benefit from Azerbaijan: Its significant cross-border contacts and trade with Iran’s large ethnic Azeri community.

For that same reason, as Iran’s nuclear showdown with the West deepens, the Islamic Republic sees the Azeri frontier as a weak point, even though both countries are mostly Shiite Muslim.

Earlier this month, Iran’s foreign ministry accused Azerbaijan of allowing the Israeli spy agency Mossad to operate on its territory and providing a corridor for “terrorists” to kill members of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Azerbaijan dismissed the Iranian claims as “slanderous lies.” Israeli leaders have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.

Israel, meanwhile, recently claimed authorities foiled Iranian-sponsored attacks against Israeli targets in Azerbaijan. Such claims have precedents: In 2008, Azeri officials said they thwarted a plot to explode car bombs near the Israeli Embassy; two Lebanese men were later convicted in the bombing attempt. A year earlier, Azerbaijan convicted 15 people in connection with an alleged Iranian-linked spy network accused of passing intelligence on Western and Israeli activities.

Iran has denied Azerbaijan’s latest charges of plotting to kill Israelis, but a diplomatic rupture is unlikely. Azerbaijan is an important pathway for Iranian goods in the Caucasus region and both nations have signed accords among Caspian nations on energy, environmental and shipping policies.