In his video essay, ‘Dear Michael’, Agil Abdullayev presents a social portrait layering and deconstructing narratives of masculinity, identity and male friendship.
Agil’s interdisciplinary research-based practice examines Azerbaijani identity and culture with a focus on topics concerning gender and social class, frequently through the lens of his childhood memories and experiences. In the single-channel video work ‘Dear Michael’, these themes materialize in the form of a visual essay, in which personal, cultural and fictional narratives are interwoven via a meandering account of an imaginary friend called Michael.
Throughout the video, the artist’s casual monologue unfolds — at turns both humorous and emotional — accompanied and interjected by clips, stock footage, social media posts, and music. Shifts in mood are represented by a sequence of emojis floating behind the narrator’s head, while a background of pink clouds and a patch of star-like flecks of light moving through darkness transport the story to a fantasy realm.
But alongside the playfulness, candy-colored background, and blurring of distinctions between real and fictional, the work touches on subjects like bullying, toxic masculinity, and feeling like an outsider. For Agil, exploring male friendships via alter egos and imaginary friends has always been a vehicle for navigating such issues and the hostile environment they create: “…as a shy, feminine and overweight boy, I always had alter egos in my head at different stages of my life. They were all fearless and took me somewhere full of joy.”
“My Michael partially came out of those [Hollywood] characters — as American, smart, happy, physically and mentally strong, breaking down barriers and standing up against abuse of power. Challenging his time and society, he becomes something bigger than the average person from his hometown.”