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