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.
The exhibition 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.
Rena Effendi: Liquid Land: Legacies of Oil and Power, 26 April until 22 June, Impressions Gallery, Centenary Square, Bradford, BD1 1SD. www.impressions-gallery.com
Image: School boys in a refugee settlement at the abandoned gas processing factory. Bibi-Heybat. Baku, Azerbaijan, 2008. Rena Effendi. Courtesy Impressions Gallery.