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“The Yanomami Struggle” - the exhibition recently reopened at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris (closing date September 13th, 2020) - focuses on the meteoric work by the photographer and militant Claudia Andujar (b. Switzerland, 1931), whose life and career have been devoted to the defense of the Yanomami Brazilian tribe. From Andujar’s personal archive, over three hundred photographs, a series of Yanomami marker drawings on paper and the site specific audiovisual installation Genocide of the Yanomami: Death of Brazil compose this passionate, explosive exhibition, curated by Thyago Nogueira for the Instituto Moreira Salles in Brazil.

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The Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous group, has launched a global campaign to expel from their ancestral territory 20,000 gold miners - who have threatened their survival since the 1990s - amid the coronavirus pandemic. The isolated tribe, counting about 32,000 individuals, lives on agriculture, hunting, tobacco and cotton cultivation in the remote forest of the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and in the northernmost reaches of the Amazon River, in northern Brazil. Much of Yanomami social life centers on forming alliances with other friendly groups while waging war against hostile villages. 


Claudia Andujar, The young Susi Korihana thëri swimming, Catrimani, Roraima, 1972–74. Collection of the artist. © Claudia Andujar.


If, on the one hand, the role of continuous war in Yanomami society has attracted the attention of anthropologists, on the other hand the Yanomami’s struggle for survival has caught the singular eye of the Swiss-Brazilian photojournalist and human rights activist Claudia Andujar. Letting her instinct to guide her to the Amazon jungle, Andujar finds herself, and the green lung of the Earth imprints an indelible mark to her fate. “I am connected to the indigenous, to the land, to the primary struggle. All of that moves me deeply”: this is her heartfelt interest and attachment. Hence, for over five decades, she has devoted herself to photographing and protecting the Yanomami.


Claudia Andujar, Youth Wakatha u thëri, victim of measles, is treated by shamans and paramedics from the Catholic mission, Catrimani, Roraima, 1976. Infrared film, 68 × 102 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris.


Claudia Andujar, Toototobi Warrior, Yanomami Dreams series, 1976/Courtesy Galeria Vermelho.


As a young girl, Andujar’s life was drastically marked firstly by the Hungarian domination – as she was living in Transylvania (Romania) - and then by the WWII genocide. Her father, a Hungarian Jew, was deported and killed in the Nazi camp of Dachau. Thus, Claudia's life as a migrant began: firstly, she moved to the United States in 1946, then to Brazil in 1955, where, while working on an article about the Amazon for Realidade magazine, she eventually met the shamanic culture of the Yanomami. For her photographic essay - supported by a fellowship from Guggenheim Museum - she decided to have an experimental approach, differentiating herself from her contemporaries.

By applying Vaseline to the lens of her camera, using filters, flash devices, oil lamps and infrared film, she created visual distortions, spots out of focus, streaks of light and saturated colors. Yanomami’s myths, rituals and visions were visually translated and interpreted. The collective house near the Catholic mission on the Catrimani River (Roraima, 1976) is a ufo, a crusted shell, a crater of a volcano, nestled in a forest of thick shocking pink trees. A Yanomami child is shaken by a heavy blue storm, or immersed in a blue liquid, dense as tar (The young Susi Korihana thëri swimming, Catrimani, Roraima, 1972-74), but vivid as a lucid dream. A young Wakatha-u-théri man is cured of measles. Amidst leaves and dry brushwood, he keeps his eyes closed. What does he dream? Is the grim and, simultaneously, friendly nature of the disease suggesting something to him? Or to the entire tribe’s consciousness? Is nature talking to the world?



Claudia Andujar, Collective house near the Catholic mission on the Catrimani River, Roraima, 1976. Collection of the artist. © Claudia Andujar.


Claudia Andujar, Catrimani, Roraima, 1972-1976, Courtesy Fondation Cartier, © Claudia Andujar.


Andujar also developed a series of black-and-white portraits of Yanomami people: body fragments, suspended bodies, glances and faces, fiery heads, always on the blurred line between the dream and the reality - which is danzante - a dance of chiaroscuro, lights and shadows that lasts until late at night. To take photographs of childbirth, women and children, sons and daughters, Andujar decided to blend in. Wearing the clothes of the Yanomami, she became a true friend. A friend who supports your growth and independence, while “teaching you to fight, to defend your land, language, customs, festivals, dances, chants from the interests of politicians”, as Davi Kopenawa Yanomami reveals. Since 1978, when she founded the Commission Pro-Yanomani, Andujar has been using her artistic medium primarily as a means to raise awareness, support the cause and to make Yanomami present and real. Claudia Andujar planted a tree in the middle of the Amazon rainforest which has already become gigantic.


Claudia Andujar, A Yanomami girl. © Claudia Andujar/Survival.


Claudia Andujar, Inside a collective house near the Catrimani River, Roraima, 1974, Courtesy Fondation Cartier, © Claudia Andujar.


Cover image: Claudia Andujar, Unahi Opikɨ thëri, Roraima State, 1974, © Claudia Andujar.

Written by Petra Chiodi

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