Curatorial statement

Hanging on walls inside homes since time immemorial, hand-woven carpets are vessels of history. They contain tradition, symbolism and memories threaded into finely knotted craftsmanship. With their geometric patterns as important as the textile itself, the carpet as an artwork occupies a position far beyond a piece of ornamental decoration, rather an integral part of Middle Eastern cultural heritage. Yet for Orkhan Mammadov, the carpet as artwork belongs as a piece of futuristic heritage. 

Through a densely complex mathematics-based art practice Mammadov reinvents traditional carpet design techniques by employing machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI). He uses his personal heritage as raw data, carefully documenting historical sources of ornamental carpet patterns and recontextualizes that data into the digital age. In this act, he is placing himself, the artist, simultaneously as a researcher and exhibitor in the process of creating his art. 

‘Relic’ reveals a new visual language of carpet pattern through a collaboration between artist and machine. Harnessing the power of AI, Mammadov uses GAN algorithms to study the visual similarities of a massive carpet pattern archive collected over seven years of intensive research. Then, using a specifically designed coding structure, the relationship between artist and machine produces unique yet familiar patterns. Deliberately relinquishing part of his authority over the final product, Mammadov is questioning cultural appropriation and dissolution of deep-rooted cultural traditions in a globalised world. Yet he is also reclaiming ownership of them within a contemporary context and rewriting their position as relics of the past. 

Mammadov expands the interpretation of patterns, moving them away from the craftsmanship of carpet weaving, to computing systems that recognize regularities in data sets. In this process, what was formerly historical data, now becomes the threads of information for the digital carpet. In Mammadov’s eyes we are looking at equally important objects that store information and reflect on societies; the lines between fine art and crafts blur when manifested through technology. The physicality of the screens and the machine learning is further accentuated by tangled wires that are visible from behind the screens. They reveal the mechanisms of the art and are also reminiscent of the authenticity of real carpets, which are verified by knots upon the underside. 

Exploring the possibilities that new technologies can bring to heritage, ‘Relic’ transforms the way we understand culture and how it morphs through the lens of societal changes. It proposes alternative futures, creating ways of communicating with history and giving rise to a new age of multiculturalism across technologies. Within ‘Relic’, the old and the new unite to reinvent each other.


The history of carpet weaving in Azerbaijan is closely linked with the history of the country itself with evidence of the craft dating back to the 2nd millennium BC. Influences of the various civilisations that have passed through Caucasia over the centuries can be seen in the evolution of carpet weaving, with Azerbaijani artisans refining and adapting techniques and styles from the Scythians, Sarmatians, and later, the Turks and Persians. Carpets were not only functional objects, providing warmth and comfort in homes, they also served as status symbols and gifts of diplomacy. Azerbaijani carpets were highly sought after by traders and collectors, contributing to the region’s economic development. Furthermore, the diverse landscape and cultural influences in Azerbaijan have given rise to a wide variety of regional carpet styles, each with its own distinctive characteristics. Some of the most well-known Azerbaijani carpet-making regions include Quba, Shirvan, Baku, Ganja, Gazakh, and Karabakh. Each region is known for its unique weaving techniques, colour palettes, and design motifs, which often reflect the local environment, customs, and history. 

Perhaps due to the tradition being passed down over several centuries, the region’s weavers - usually female - are highly skilled artisans who have mastered the art of symmetric and asymmetric hand-knotting, to create their intricate designs. The choice of materials, including natural dyes and fibres, and the qualities of the material such the elasticity of wool or the sheen of silk, significantly impacts the texture, durability, and appearance of the carpets. These women often work collaboratively in small groups or within family units, with each member contributing their expertise to the creation of a carpet. This collaborative process fosters a sense of community and shared identity. Carpets also play a significant role in various Azerbaijani rituals and traditions. They are often used during weddings and funerals, and are passed down through generations as family heirlooms. The presence of carpets in these ceremonies signifies the importance of continuity, heritage, and connection to the past. In 2010, UNESCO recognized Azerbaijani carpet weaving as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Many contemporary artists and designers have been inspired by the visual language of Azerbaijani carpets, incorporating their motifs and techniques into various mediums such as painting, sculpture, and textiles. In recent years, efforts have been made to preserve and promote the rich heritage of Azerbaijani carpet weaving. The establishment of the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum in Baku, the inclusion of Azerbaijani carpet weaving in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, and the organisation of various exhibitions and workshops all contribute to the continued vitality and recognition of this ancient craft. Several institutions and organisations such as Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Carpet Museum and Azercarpets in Azerbaijan are dedicated to the preservation, research, and promotion of Azerbaijani carpets. These entities provide resources, education, and support to carpet weavers, ensuring that the craft continues to thrive in the modern era.

Project Overview

Embodying Orkhan Mammadov’s desire to straddle the bridge between ancient tradition and rapidly evolving modern technology, Relic is the result of years of artistic research in the specifics of Azerbaijani carpet design. Using a fusion of traditional craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology, Relic is the conceptual name for one project that encompasses the broader implications of Mammadov’s work for the fields of art, technology, and cultural preservation.  

The project is conceptualised by providing a massive data-set of thousands of Azerbaijani carpet patterns to a machine-learning algorithm, to continuously create new patterns thus placing their centuries-old symbolism in a fresh perspective. By engaging with the artwork on a sensory level, viewers are then able to develop a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and cultural significance of these ancient artefacts

The Relic full-scale exhibition is a 15-minute immersive art experience, combining data visualisation, 3D particle thread simulations, and generative art. It is an immersive, engaging environment, drawing viewers into the rich history of Azerbaijani carpets while also highlighting the potential of technology to transform society’s understanding of cultural heritage. Throughout the exhibition, viewers are encouraged to interact with the various digital installations, exploring the rich tapestry of Azerbaijani carpet patterns and their evolution over time. The physical space incorporates elements of traditional Azerbaijani architecture and decor alongside state-of-the-art digital displays and installations. One of the ways in which Mammadov blends the physical and digital realms is by creating physical representations of the AI-generated carpet patterns. These representations can take various forms, such as large-scale prints, fabric installations, or real woven carpets created using the AI-generated designs. By giving physical form to the AI-generated patterns, Mammadov reinforces the connection between the traditional craftsmanship of carpet weaving and the cutting-edge technology employed in his artwork. The result is a harmonious blend of the old and the new, inviting viewers to reflect on the interplay between heritage and innovation. Mammadov’s work demonstrates the potential for technology to both protect cultural heritage and inspire new forms of artistic expression that challenge traditional boundaries.


Over the course of ten years, Mammadov has painstakingly researched and collected a vast archive of traditional Azerbaijani carpet designs. This comprehensive dataset, sourced from museums, private collections, historical texts, and personal interviews with carpet weavers includes photographs, drawings, and written descriptions of carpet patterns and serves as the basis for his AI-driven artwork. After collecting the data, Mammadov meticulously catalogued and organised these patterns, creating a structured dataset. Using advanced image processing techniques, Mammadov converted the physical patterns into digital format as the first step in enabling them to be analysed and manipulated by the AI algorithms. These algorithms are capable of identifying similarities, detecting variations, and uncovering hidden structures within the carpet patterns. By using machine learning, or more specifically, Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) and data visualisation techniques, the machine is employed for symbol detection and classification involving advanced neural networks to recognize and categorise symbols. 

GANs function through two neural networks—a generator and a discriminator—that collaborate to produce unique patterns, closely resembling the training dataset while incorporating distinct variations. The generator creates new patterns, while the discriminator evaluates them against the training data, refining the generated patterns until they achieve the desired level of similarity and novelty. This process challenges conventional ideas of artistic creation, blurring the boundaries between human and machine-generated art.

To enable the viewer to visualise the GAN process, Mammadov records the evolution of AI-generated patterns as they are refined through numerous iterations. This results in a series of captivating videos that showcase the gradual transformation of the patterns as they move closer to the aesthetic qualities of traditional Azerbaijani carpets. These videos also offer a unique insight into the inner workings of the GAN algorithm and provide a compelling visual narrative of the creative collaboration between artist and machine. In addition to the visualisation of the GAN process, Mammadov incorporates a particle thread simulation into the Relic project, further enhancing the immersive and dynamic nature of the exhibition. Using the generated videos as a basis, Mammadov creates a 3D simulation that represents the individual threads of the carpets as particles, giving viewers the impression of witnessing the weaving process in real-time. The combination of GAN process visualisation and particle thread simulation effectively brings Mammadov’s AI-driven artwork to life, creating a rich, immersive experience that challenges traditional notions of artistic expression.

One of the primary challenges Mammadov faced in the recontextualisation process is striking the delicate balance between preserving the integrity of traditional carpet patterns and embracing the potential for innovation offered by AI and other cutting-edge technologies. Ensuring that the AI-generated patterns retain the essence of traditional Azerbaijani carpets while still exhibiting a distinct, contemporary aesthetic requires careful calibration of the AI algorithms and ongoing collaboration with historians, carpet weavers, and AI experts.

Another challenge lies in the ethical considerations surrounding the use of technology in the preservation and reinterpretation of cultural heritage. By deliberately relinquishing part of his authority over the final product, Mammadov raises important questions about cultural appropriation, ownership, and the potential dissolution of deep-rooted cultural traditions in a globalised world. Mammadov’s documentation of historical sources of ornamental carpet patterns and their recontextualization into the digital age represents a pioneering approach to preserving and reimagining the cultural heritage of Azerbaijani carpets. 

Beyond the specific context of Azerbaijani carpets, Mammadov’s ‘Relic’ project has broader implications for the preservation and reinterpretation of cultural heritage in the digital age. By demonstrating the potential for technology to create new avenues for artistic expression and cultural understanding, Mammadov’s work serves as an inspiration for other artists and researchers working at the intersection of tradition and innovation. One of the broader impacts of Mammadov’s work is its potential to promote cross-cultural exchange and understanding. By reimagining traditional Azerbaijani carpets through the lens of technology, Mammadov invites viewers from around the world to engage with the rich cultural heritage of Azerbaijan and to appreciate the intricate symbolism and craftsmanship that underpin these remarkable artifacts.

Furthermore, by creating immersive installations that appeal to a diverse range of senses and experiences, Mammadov’s ‘Relic’ project provides a platform for viewers from different backgrounds to connect with the cultural heritage of Azerbaijani carpets, fostering greater empathy and appreciation for the traditions and values that they represent. 

Moreover, by collaborating with experts from a wide range of fields, Mammadov highlights the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to preserving cultural heritage and encourages other artists and researchers to explore the potential for technology to transform their own areas of expertise. Mammadov’s ‘Relic’ project serves as an inspiration for a new generation of artists seeking to explore the intersection of tradition and innovation. By demonstrating the power of technology to create new forms of artistic expression and to deepen our understanding of cultural heritage, Mammadov’s work encourages emerging artists to embrace the potential of technology and to push the boundaries of their own creative practices.

In this way, Mammadov’s ‘Relic’ project not only preserves the rich cultural heritage of Azerbaijani carpets but also paves the way for a future where technology and tradition coexist in harmony, giving rise to new, contextually rich forms of artistic expression that celebrate the diverse tapestry of human culture.

As Mammadov’s ‘Relic’ project continues to evolve, it is clear that the fusion of tradition and innovation will remain a central theme in his artistic vision. Whether through the development of new AI algorithms, the incorporation of cutting-edge technologies, or the exploration of novel methods of collaboration, Mammadov’s work will continue to push the boundaries of artistic expression and to challenge our understanding of the relationship between cultural heritage and the digital age.

Role of the Artist

In the realm of AI-driven artwork, the role of the artist is both complex and evolving. While artists like Orkhan Mammadov still exercise a significant degree of control over the creative process, they also consciously relinquish some authority to the algorithms that generate new patterns and designs. This balance between artistic control and algorithmic creativity is crucial, as it allows the artist to guide the overall direction of the project while still embracing the unpredictable and innovative nature of AI-generated art. One of the most critical roles of the artist in AI-driven art projects like Relic is to facilitate collaboration between humans and machines. This collaboration involves carefully preparing the data used to train the AI algorithms, refining the algorithms to generate desired outcomes, and interpreting the AI-generated patterns in a meaningful and engaging way. By fostering a symbiotic relationship between human creativity and machine intelligence, the artist can create artwork that transcends the limitations of either individual component.

By relinquishing some authority over the final product, artists working with AI are also challenging traditional notions of authorship and ownership in the world of art. This shift raises important questions about the nature of artistic creation, the role of the artist, and the implications of collaborative human-machine art for intellectual property rights and cultural appropriation. As AI-driven art continues to gain prominence, these questions will likely become increasingly relevant, shaping the future of the art world and the relationship between artists and their creations. The role of the artist in AI-driven art projects also involves a willingness to explore and experiment with new technologies, techniques, and ideas. By embracing the potential of AI and other cutting-edge technologies, artists are pushing the boundaries of artistic expression and challenging traditional notions of what art can be. This spirit of exploration and experimentation is essential for driving innovation in the art world and ensuring that artists continue to evolve and adapt to the rapidly changing technological landscape. 

Finally, the artist’s role in AI-driven art projects also includes advocating for ethical and responsible use of technology in the preservation and reinterpretation of cultural heritage. By openly addressing the potential pitfalls and challenges associated with using AI and other technologies in the art world, artists can help foster a more nuanced and informed understanding of the ethical implications of their work, promoting responsible and thoughtful use of technology in artistic practice.

Innovation in the realm of AI-driven art has the potential to breathe new life into traditions, such as carpet weaving in Azerbaijan. By incorporating technology into the study and reinterpretation of cultural heritage, artists can create contemporary works that pay homage to the past while simultaneously looking to the future. This fusion of tradition and technology enables artists to create new possibilities for expression and engagement with cultural heritage, ensuring that these practices remain relevant and accessible in the modern world. The innovative use of technology in preserving and reimagining cultural heritage can also foster cross-cultural dialogue and exchange.

By making traditional art forms more accessible and engaging to global audiences, artists can also promote a greater understanding and appreciation for diverse cultures and their historical legacies, ensuring safeguarding of cultural heritage and enabling future generations to learn from and appreciate the cultural legacies of their ancestors. The result of this understanding is new innovations, paving the way for future breakthroughs and discoveries in art and technology. 

Role of Technology

One of the primary implications of using technology in preserving cultural heritage is the democratisation of access. By digitising artefacts, documents, and artworks, artists and institutions can make these resources available to a broader audience, transcending geographical boundaries and socioeconomic limitations. Through the use of websites, virtual exhibitions, and immersive experiences, individuals from all walks of life can engage with and learn from cultural heritage, fostering a more inclusive and equitable understanding of human history. The use of technology in preserving cultural heritage also has significant implications for conservation efforts. Digital preservation methods can help to safeguard fragile or endangered artefacts from physical degradation, theft, or destruction. 

Safeguarding and preservation is a historical facing viewpoint but technology also has the potential to push art and culture forward by creating a new language of expression through the use of digital tools, algorithms, and AI. Technology can also facilitate new research and collaboration opportunities through digital platforms and social media connecting artists from around the world, enabling them to share ideas, techniques, and inspiration. This exchange of ideas and creative practices can lead to the development of new artistic styles and forms that draw upon the rich tapestry of global cultural heritage. The use of technology in art and cultural representation can also encourage interdisciplinary approaches, as artists increasingly draw upon the expertise and knowledge of scientists, engineers, and researchers to inform their creative practice. This fusion of art, science, and technology can lead to the development of new artistic languages that challenge traditional notions of what constitutes art and culture. 

As technology continues to play a more significant role in preserving cultural heritage, there is a growing need for education on both the technical and cultural aspects of this process. Educators and cultural institutions must work together to develop curricula that teach the next generation of artists, researchers, and technologists how to use technology responsibly and ethically in the preservation and reinterpretation of cultural heritage. This education will be essential in ensuring that future generations can continue to engage with and learn from the rich tapestry of human history in a respectful and meaningful way.

In conclusion, the implications of using technology in preserving cultural heritage are far-reaching and complex. By democratising access, enhancing preservation and conservation efforts, facilitating research and collaboration, addressing ethical considerations, balancing authenticity and innovation, and promoting education, the use of technology in preserving cultural heritage can have a transformative impact on the way we engage with and understand our shared human history. However, it is essential to navigate these implications with care and consideration, ensuring that technology serves as a tool for celebrating and safeguarding our cultural heritage rather than diminishing or exploiting it.

The Question of Cultural Appropriation

As technology facilitates the sharing and reinterpretation of cultural heritage in a globalised world, it is crucial to approach these endeavours with cultural sensitivity and respect. By engaging in open dialogue with the communities from which these cultural resources originate, artists can promote a more inclusive and equitable understanding of cultural heritage that values diverse perspectives and experiences. The ethical considerations of cultural appropriation and ownership are closely tied to the power dynamics that exist within a globalised world. Historically, dominant cultures have often co-opted and commodified the cultural resources of marginalised communities, leading to the erasure or distortion of these communities’ history and traditions. In using technology to preserve and reinterpret cultural heritage, artists and cultural institutions must be mindful of these power dynamics and work to ensure that their efforts promote equity and justice for all cultures. 

By engaging with these complex issues, Mammadov’s Relic project encourages viewers to critically examine their own perspectives on art, culture, and the role of technology in society. The exhibition serves as a platform for discussion and reflection, encouraging dialogue about the ethical implications of fusing technology and art in the context of cultural preservation. The exhibition not only highlights the unique cultural heritage of Azerbaijan but also underscores the importance of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding in our increasingly interconnected world. By showcasing the innovative ways in which technology can be used to preserve and reinterpret cultural artefacts, the exhibition invites viewers to consider the potential for similar approaches to be applied to other forms of cultural heritage around the globe. In this way, the ‘Relic’ exhibition serves as an inspiration for artists, cultural institutions, and policymakers to explore new avenues for collaboration and innovation in the preservation and celebration of our shared human heritage.

The legal and intellectual property considerations related to cultural appropriation and ownership are also significant. Artists and cultural institutions must navigate complex copyright and trademark laws to ensure that their work does not infringe on the rights of others. Additionally, they must be mindful of the potential for misappropriation of traditional knowledge, which can have significant cultural and economic consequences for the communities from which this knowledge originates. As technology continues to shape the way we engage with and consume cultural heritage, it is essential to promote ethical consumption and appreciation practices. By educating audiences about the cultural contexts and significance of the works they are engaging with, artists and cultural institutions can encourage a more informed and respectful appreciation of diverse cultural traditions. This education can help to counteract the negative impacts of cultural appropriation and promote a more inclusive understanding of global cultural heritage.

Research & Execution:
OMA Lab - Orkhan Media Art Lab. 2018 - 2022