Nigar Samadzadeh stands out in Baku. It is definitely the blue hair, the shaved eyebrows, and the fake fur coat, but there is more to it. By virtue of following what she likes, Nigar, who goes by Naomi, challenges the strict pre-established standards of what a young woman should do, how she should behave, and which path she should walk on in Azerbaijan. Being filmed dancing on a beach, in a violet bikini while smoking a cigarette is far from that stereotype.
When in 2016 the 24-year-old was asked to feature in a videoclip for DIhaj, an Azerbaijani electronic music collective, she jumped to the opportunity. The sassy short hairdo and the provocatively sexy moves did not go down well in her family and among some of her friends - “you looked transgender,” she was told, and that in itself is not a compliment in traditional Azerbaijan.
Born in Baku, Nigar-aka-Naomi - but the self-assigned digital nicknames she uses in social media includes “Queen Kaukasia” and “Niggar Doubble” - grew up first in Denmark where her parents moved when she was three, then in Spain where she spent a few of her teenage years. The Scandinavian open-mindedness showed her that expressing yourself is just part of who you are and she embraced that vision. Colourful clothes and funky hairstyles became a part of her.
“I am in love with pop culture, the 1980s Buffalo style, the glow of the Spice Girls, I try to look like my idols. I was always trying to express myself through my clothes. I was lucky that my mum was supportive of it, but most people I knew, never understood it. Denmark helped me to express myself but even there, sometimes I did not feel comfortable to wear what I wanted. I did not care about what others thought or said, but that came at a cost, I’ve had no real friends.”
Changing about 20 schools in ten years did not help. “In each school and in each city I got different reactions to my style and my attitude [towards life],” she says.
Back in Baku at 16, fitting in was even more difficult.She first enrolled in ADA University, switching soon to the Azerbaijan State Oil University - she was not interested in either.
“I preferred to attend painting classes, or make jewelry and ceramic sculptures, so I decided to go to art summer school in Denmark, and when I returned in 2015 I decided to live as I wanted, not as my mum wanted me to.”
Mingling with musicians, artists, and fashion professionals, Nigar-aka-Naomi felt she found her space. Like in the brief cameo in the videoclip - she just loved it.
“Shooting this clip was kinda a joke, I did not know what I was getting into and I just happened to know Diana [the band’s singer]. I met her via a social network, and [later] when I came to Baku I was introduced to her family, we became friends and she asked me to feature in that clip,” she recalls.
“We just wanted to go to the beach, I was so happy, I had a lot of energy, I was very inspired by Dihaj and I thought “let’s have a party.” I did not realize, [did not think] it’d cause problems. We got some wine, watermelon, and I wore a bikini my mum gave me when I was 13, but I’d never used it publicly before.”
Those few seconds on screen led to abuse on social media, she was attacked by both family members and acquaintances.
“I couldn’t talk with anyone about it, I felt no one wanted to have a conversation about this with me. It was sad, I was lonely.”
Nigar-aka-Naomi is back in Denmark again, looking to continue her art studies while trying to find her place in the world and a space she can feel truly herself. Up north in Europe she feels free, but freedom is not easy to handle and it can be solitary - her supportive mother, who helped in keeping away from trouble and took care of her in moments of depression, stayed behind.
“In Baku I have everything, I have a loving family who looks after me, but no private space. In Denmark I have privacy which means a lot for me. I was depending on my family in Baku and now here everything depends just on me.”