Waiting for winter

The village soul flutters around us,
like a shy smell of cut grass,
like a lowering of smoke from straw eaves,
like the playing of lambs on tall graves.

The village soul by Lucian Blaga

I saw a woman sitting on the porch of her house. So I asked her “What are you doing?” to which she responded: Nothing, just waiting for winter”. Rena Effendi
The meadows of high grass are mowed; the last piles of hay are drying in the autumnal sun. A woman sits quite still in a room in her house in a village of Transylvania, her hands quietly crossed on her lap. Day by day she waits, as if the winter might appear in her view and walk into her house from the neighboring courtyard. It is the winter that will conclude the year and bring to an end another circle of life. This circle is always the same for the inhabitants of Transylvanian villages, for people whose lives are closely intertwined with nature and dependent upon how the meadows will grow. They follow the indispensable task of mowing and farming with tranquillity and respect. This repetitive walk of their life transcends boredom, becoming a slow existence.

Rena Effendi is known for her keen observation of people’s intimate connection to their homes and to spaces that link them to their history and traditions. Mostly focusing on places where this fragile bond is on the verge of breaking up. Her photographs, both peaceful and awakening, work as reminders of a continuing clash between modernity and tradition.

The exhibition Waiting for Winter, brings together works from three photographic series that brought Rena Effendi many awards – Built on Grass (2014), Chernobyl: Still Life in the Zone (2010) and Xinaliq Village (2006). All three radiate with admiration for the slow village life, but at the same time disrupt its peaceful image, bringing attention to traces of toil, unfavourable environment and daily life hardships.

Each series unveils a compromise between a strong attachment to one’s homeland and the difficulties of maintaining the familiar way of life. In Built on Grass we see an almost pastoral village set amongst the bucolic landscapes of Romania. Men and women labour their land of precious hay meadows in an almost medieval way, by hand, preferring horse to tractor. Very much like in the Xinaliq Village in Azerbaijan, where a small community of sheep-breeders live among spectacular mountains. The mountains are not only beautiful, but also hardly reachable so people mustgo without running water and gas. In the Ukrainian Chernobyl area, many villages have been encompassed into the exclusion zone, but the inhabitants refused to leave. Here the seeming calm of the village in Chernobyl: Still Life in the Zone has become a deadly silence of nature, which slowly reclaims the territories spoiled by men and revenge and produces a harvest of poisoned vegetation.

Notwithstanding the seamy side of village life, all three series are pervaded with tranquility. It is in part the merit of Rena Effendi’s painterly use of light, which gives the photographs the look of canvases from the Dutch old masters. The sunlight that floods the interiors of Vermeer’s paintings and casts a face with a golden glow or Brueghel’s mildly lit landscapes with peasants working in the fields seem to be as much of an inspiration for Rena Effendi as real life.

Though it is not only the sublimity of rural landscape that makes these images so quiet. Rena Effendi manages to capture the most difficult process in village life – the daily inner work that people do to achieve peace of mind. Their dignified faces are testimonies to the delicate balance found between necessity and joy. Their humbleness is mature and there is true sublimity in their slow life, patiently waiting for winter.

Anna Arutiunova