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Impressions Gallery

exhibitions: past

Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power

Rena Effendi

26th Apr - 22nd Jun 2013

Opening on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power reveals the struggles and resilience of people living in some of the world's most polluted areas in the former Soviet Union.

This is the first UK showing of this new exhibition by award-winning Azerbaijani photographer Rena Effendi, and brings together two related bodies of work made over the last ten years. Chernobyl: Still Life in the Zone is a moving portrait of the lives of elderly women in the Ukraine's notorious Zone, the restricted area around Reactor 4 which exploded on 26 April 1986. In the aftermath of nuclear catastrophe, these women returned to reclaim their homes from an inhospitable world where most of the food they produce still contains dangerous levels of radiation.

Liquid Land depicts communities and refugees of war living amongst the oil spills and industrial ruin of the petroleum-rich Absheron peninsula in Azerbaijan, near to the capital Baku where Effendi was born and grew up. These landscapes and portraits are paired with images that pay tribute to Effendi's late father, a dissident scientist and entomologist who devoted his life to studying and collecting butterflies in the Soviet Union. The only remaining visual evidence of his life's work is a collection of photographs of endangered butterflies for a manuscript he never published.

Taken as a whole, the exhibition transcends geographical borders to become a collective portrait of people who have survived isolation, devastating pollution and political chaos. Amidst decay, life goes on: families decorate their crumbling homes with peacock feathers; a boy plays his drum on a heap of construction waste; and iridescent butterflies wings shine in the fresh mountain air.

A touring exhibition from INSTITUTE / Courtesy of Rena Effendi and the Prince Claus Fund

All images © Rena Effendi/Prince Claus Fund/INSTITUTE

Rena Effendi (Baku, Azerbaijan, 1977) is a social documentary photographer based in Cairo. Her first job, at the age of 19, was as a translator for the Azerbaijan International Oil Company, a consortium of some of the world's largest oil producers. Having gained an inside perspective, Effendi began to take photographs in 2001, focusing on the oil industry's effects on ordinary people's lives. Her work on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline was published as the book Pipe Dreams: A Chronicle of Lives Along the Pipeline by Schilt Publishing in 2009.

Effendi's international awards include the Fifty Crows Documentary award, the Getty Images Editorial Grant, and National Geographic's All Roads Photography Award. She has exhibited worldwide, including at the Visa Pour L'Image Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan; the 52nd Venice Biennale; and the Istanbul Biennial. Her work has been published in Newsweek, Time, The Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Marie Claire, Le Monde, National Geographic, and others. Rena Effendi is represented by INSTITUTE for Artist Management worldwide and by Grinberg Gallery in Russia.

Exhibition resources

Click here to download an information sheet about the exhibition (PDF 140KB)
Click here to download an exhibition guide (PDF 6.4 MB)

Listen again

Click here to listen to Rena Effendi's Artist Talk, recorded at Impressions Gallery on Saturday 11 May 2013 (mp3 22.3mb)

What the papers say

Aesthetica Blog
The Guardian Guide
World Photography Organisation
The Guardian online

New Focus say

Review by Lynsey Bareham

School boys in a refugee settlement at the abandoned gas processing factory. Bibi-Heybat. Baku, Azerbaijan (2008)

School boys in a refugee settlement at the abandoned gas processing factory. Bibi-Heybat. Baku, Azerbaijan (2008)

Rena Effendi

Click on thumbnail below to enlarge

School boys in a refugee settlement at the abandoned gas processing factory. Bibi-Heybat. Baku, Azerbaijan (2008) Ship cemetery on Nargin Island off the Baku bay. Baku, Azerbaijan (2006) Galina Konyushok, formerly a liquidator of the Chernobyl nuclear accident is now living alone in her home in Zirka village. To keep herself busy, she makes traditional folk patterns and images of Jesus Christ on Ukrainian cotton fabric. Chernobyl (2010) Pig butchered for the New Year holidays in Kapavati village. Chernobyl, Ukraine (2010) Boy playing his drum on a heap of construction waste. Refugee settlement in a construction factory. Baku, Azerbaijan (2010) Parnassius nordmanni. Endangered specie. Habitat: Shah-Dag and Baba Dag mountains of Guba, Azerbaijan.


Rena’s photographs are strangely, almost impossibly, beautiful. She can bring a haunting, elegiac quality to images of decay and dereliction. The ’liquid land’ part of the exhibition is particularly poignant, with the parallel stories of her father’s butterfly photographs and the people who live in this ravaged land; both endangered and fragile species, both suffering from human greed and disregard. I was delighted to learn that she uses film rather than digital - the light in these pictures is delicate and almost unreal.

Ian Hill

The lense of the camera, like the eye of the beast, shows the bleak obscurity that man has thrown upon the land.

Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power Visitor

Real, raw images. Not manipulated. Just real incredible photos- especially of Chernobyl. Very eerie.

Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power Visitor

Compassionate and insightful to the things you can come across. Also very soulful. Love your subtle use of colour and sophisticated composition.

Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power Visitor

Almost unbearably beautiful, depicts their homes of destruction and decay which run through her work. The luminous nature of her prints make a powerful case for film vs. digital!

Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power Visitor

Once again, another beautiful and thought provoking show from Impressions. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to see Effendi’s work. I love the butterflies paired with the portraits.

Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power Visitor

The images are arresting and have the power to make us think. The juxtaposition of the butterflies with man-made ugliness is particularly powerful. Thank you.

Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power Visitor

WOW, every photo was fantastic and thought provoking. The pictures struck a chord of the absolute devastation that mankind, for greed power and money, can turn a blind eye to and destroy our one and only planet! Quote M.Ghandi said " There is enough for every man’s need but not for every mans greed"

P.S. Rena Effendi, very impressing photos, keep up the good work. Simply beautiful!

Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power Visitor