Rena Effendi Transylvania: Built on Grass
For centuries, the small villages in Transylvania have preserved their hay meadows, raised cattle and operated self-sustainable farms. The agrarian fairy-tale that is extinct in Western Europe still exists here in bucolic scenes, where young boys learn to cut and rake hay by hand, where all village women are proficient in weaving, and all men can build a house from scratch – with thousands of hard-split wooden shingles on the rooftop.
In this old world, defined by traditional belief systems and respect for the environment, one does not trample a meadow of high grass before mowing it, the cows and horses find their way home along the muddy village tracks and the rivers’ water is busy with the milling, washing and alcohol making.
Having survived the collectivization of Ceausescu’s Communist regime, this fragile rural environment now faces the modern threat of industrialization and globalization – as a result of Romania’s 2007 entry into the European Union. It is not alarmist to say that today this world is on the brink of extinction, as local small-scale farmers cannot compete with the European imports and industrialized agricultural production and as the youth leaves the countryside in search for work in the cities of Western Europe.
As more horses are traded in for tractors and more wooden houses and gates are disassembled and sold off for furniture parts, this pastoral dream of a world is vanishing. Though when you see eighty-year old man cutting hay by hand, you realize that the Transylvanian peasants will farm until they die. They are deeply connected to their land and there is still hope that this traditional way of life will somehow persevere. We work hard to feed our animals and in return they work hard to feed us. This is our cycle of life, they say. Stuck between an economic rock and a hard place to live, these proud, and mostly hidden faces deserve to be recognized before progress continues its march through the pristine meadows of Transylvania.
About the author
Born in Baku, Azerbaijan and educated as a linguist, Rena Effendi’s early work focused on the oil industry’s effects on people’s lives in her region. Over six years, she followed 1,700 km of oil pipeline through Georgia and Turkey, and in 2009, her first book, Pipe Dreams: A Chronicle of Lives along the Pipeline, was published. In 2012, Effendi published her second monograph, Liquid Land.
Effendi’s work has been exhibited at institutions worldwide including the Saatchi Gallery, London; Istanbul Modern; the Venice Biennial and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her work is in the permanent collections of Istanbul Modern and the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development Amsterdam. She has received two World Press Photo awards; the Fifty Crows Documentary Photography Award; Sony World Photography Award; All Roads Photography Award from National Geographic; Magnum Foundation Emergency Grant; Getty Images Editorial Grant and the Alexia Foundation Grant among others. In 2011, Effendi became the laureate of the Prince Claus Fund Award and in 2012, she was shortlisted for the Prix Pictet for her series Chernobyl: Still Life in the Zone.
Effendi has worked on editorial commissions for the National Geographic Magazine; The New York Times Magazine; Vogue; The New Yorker; GEO; Time magazine; The Sunday Times and many others.
Joana Choumali, Ça va aller, 2016-2019
Shahidul Alam, Still She Smiles, 2014
Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain, 2014 - 2018
Rena Effendi, Transylvania: Built on Grass, 2012
Lucas Foglia, Human Nature, 2006 – 2019
Janelle Lynch, Another Way of Looking at Love, 2015-2018
Gideon Mendel, A Testament of Faded Memory, 2016
Ross McDonnell, Limbs, 2012
Ivor Prickett, End of the Caliphate, 2016 - 2018
Robin Rhode, Principle of Hope, 2017
Awoiska van der Molen, Am schwarzen Himmelsrund, 2010-2018
Alexia Webster, Street Studios, 2011-2018