La Lutte Yanomami
The Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain is pleased to announce the largest exhibition to date dedicated to the work of Claudia Andujar. For over five decades, she has devoted her life to photographing and protecting the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous group.
“I am connected to the indigenous, to the land, to the primary struggle. All of that moves me deeply. Everything seems essential. Perhaps I have always searched for the answer to the meaning of life in this essential core. I was driven there, to the Amazon jungle, for this reason. It was instinctive. I was looking to find myself.” Claudia Andujar
Based on four years of research in the photographer’s archive, this new exhibition curated by Thyago Nogueira for the Instituto Moreira Salles in Brazil, will focus on her work from this period, bringing together over three hundred photographs, a series of Yanomami drawings as well as her audiovisual installation Genocide of the Yanomami: Death of Brazil. The exhibition will explore Claudia Andujar’s extraordinary contribution to the art of photography as well as her major role as a human rights activist in the defense of the Yanomami. It is divided into two sections reflecting the dual nature of a career committed to both aesthetics and activism. The first section presents the photographs from her first seven years living with the Yanomami, showing how she grappled with the challenges of visually interpreting a complex culture. The second features the work she produced during her period of activism, when she began to use her photography as a tool among others for political change.
Claudia Andujar was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland in 1931 and currently lives and works in São Paolo. She grew up in Transylvania, which at the time had recently been incorporated to Romania after years of Hungarian domination. During WWII, Claudia’s father, a Hungarian Jew, was deported to Dachau where he was killed along with most of her paternal relatives. Claudia Andujar fled with her mother to Switzlerand, immigrated first to the United States in 1946, then to Brazil in 1955 where she began a career as a photojournalist.
Claudia Andujar first met the Yanomami in 1971 while working on an article about the Amazon for Realidade magazine. Fascinated by the culture of this isolated community, she decided to embark on an in-depth photographic essay on their daily life after receiving a Guggenheim fellowship to support the project. From the very beginning, her approach differed greatly from the straightforward documentary style of her contemporaries. The photographs she made during this period show how she experimented with a variety of photographic techniques in an attempt to visually translate the shamanic culture of the Yanomami. Applying Vaseline to the lens of her camera, using flash devices, oil lamps and infrared film, she created visual distortions, streaks of light and saturated colors, thus imbuing her images with a feeling of the otherworldly.
Claudia Andujar also developed a series of sober black-and-white portraits that capture the grace, dignity and humanity of the Yanomami. Focusing closely on faces and body fragments, she tightly frames her images, using a dramatic chiaroscuro to create a feeling of intimacy and draw attention to individual psychological states.
Alongside the many photographs taken during this period, the exhibition will also present a selection of Yanomami drawings. After years photographing the Yanomami herself, Claudia Andujar felt it was important to provide them with the opportunity to represent their own conceptions of nature and the universe. She thus initiated a drawing project, equipping members of the community with markers and paper. A selection of these drawings representing Yanomami myths, rituals, and shamanic visions will be presented in the exhibition.
By the late 1970s, Claudia Andujar had reached a turning point in her career. The construction of a transcontinental highway in the Amazon, initiated by Brazil’s military government, opened up the region to deforestation as well as invasive agricultural programs, bringing epidemics to the Yanomami and leading to the annihilation of entire communities. This situation reminded her of the genocide in Europe, and its impact on her was such that she decided to deepen her commitment to the Yanomami struggle. In 1978 she founded, with the missionary Carlo Zacquini and the anthropologist Bruce Albert, the Commissão Pro-Yanomani (CCPY) and began a fourteen-year-long campaign to designate their homeland. At this point in her career photography, she put her artistic project aside and used photography primarily as a means to raise awareness and support her cause.
In the early 80s Claudia Andujar took a series of black-and-white portraits of the Yanomami as part of a vaccination campaign. They are wearing numbered labels to help identify them for their medical records. The artist was struck by how these labels recalled the numerical tattoos of those ‘branded for death’ during the Holocaust. She later revisited these portraits and created the Marcados series, which reveal the ambiguity inherent in this act of labelling even if it is ultimately for their survival. In the exhibition, we will present previously unseen photographs from this series.
One of the other major works presented in this section is Genocide of the Yanomami: Death of Brazil (1989-2018). This audiovisual installation, which has been recreated specifically for the exhibition, was originally made in reaction to the decrees signed in 1989, which broke up Yanomami territory in nineteen separate reservations. Produced with photos from Claudia Andujar’s archive, re-photographed using lights and filters, the projection leads the visitor from a world of harmony to one devastated by the progress of Western civilization. A soundtrack composed by Marlui Miranda combining Yanomami chants and experimental music accompanies this installation.
In 1992, following the campaign led by Claudia Andujar, Carlo Zacquini, Bruce Albert and the Yanomami shaman and spokesman, Davi Kopenawa, the Brazilian government agreed to legally demarcate Yanomami territory. Recognized on the eve of the UN Conference on Environment and Development, this territory is still threatened by illegal mining and logging.
The work of Claudia Andujar provides both an unparalleled glimpse into the complex cosmological worldview of the Yanomami and a powerful political indictment of the violence perpetrated against them. The explosive force of her photography remains relevant today in view of the renewed threats facing the Yanomami and the Amazon basin.