Rena Effendi will present her book “Liquid Land” at National centre for contemporary arts (NCCA) on 17th September.
Liquid Land is a collective portrait of communities living dangerously among the oil spills and industrial ruin of the Absheron peninsula. Pushed to the edges of city and society, they inhabit makeshift homes, oilfields and abandoned factories; their numbers grow, with new children born daily. Many are refugees of war – rural populations that lost everything and fled to the city to be safe and to find work. Living in these inhuman conditions for two decades now, they no longer have their village expanse but still breed livestock among the metal waste of factories and hang their laundry on oilrigs. The air they breathe, the water they drink, the playgrounds for their children are all contaminated and hostile. Yet life goes on in this dodgy urban concoction – people decorate their crumbling homes with peacock feathers; a boy plays his drum on a heap of construction waste; an elderly couple plants potatoes in an oilfield; a woman waits to deliver her child in her cardboard home. Land is liquid underneath these people’s homes – their present survival tenuous, their children’s future uncertain.
“Liquid Land is co-authored with my father Rustam Effendi, a dissident scientist and entomologist who devoted his life to studying, hunting and collecting butterflies in the Soviet Union. Inherited by the Azerbaijani State Institute of Zoology after his death in 1991, his vast collection has disintegrated. Alongside thousands of glass boxes filled with butterfly dust, the only remaining visual evidence of his life’s work is the fifty photographs of endangered butterflies for a manuscript he never published.
Next to my father’s dead but iridescent butterflies, my photographs show life in some of the world’s most polluted areas, near Baku, where I was born and grew up. In my mind, the contrasting images gravitate towards each other – as I have to my father. Since working on this book I have gotten to know him much better than when he was alive. Salty Waters is the translation from Persian of the ‘Ab-sheuran’ Peninsula; in and around Baku, its main city, the earth is breathing with petroleum fumes, as oil oozes to the surface, turning it liquid. The Caspian Sea hugs the eagle-beak shaped land, salting its gas-pocked soil.
I photograph the barren, liquid land of Absheron – its environmental and urban decay, its people living amidst the chaos of industrial pollution. My father’s work was in the fresh mountain air. The butterflies that he hunted since he was a boy are spectacular in their symmetry. Carefully placed on plants, they shine with vibrant colours.” – Rena Effendi