Claudia Andujar’s ongoing commitment to some community under continual danger

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With Andujar’s monumental retrospective opening at the Barbican, Greater london, we revisit a review of the 2020 iteration of the display at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain

Claudia Andujar has involved with the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous groups, for many years; her involvement twofold. The lady began by creating poetic depictions of the indigenous people’s mysterious existence. But , her approach evolved, becoming politics: documentation of their persecution as a means to protect them. A 2020 retrospective at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, france, Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle , held on Andujar’s eighty-ninth year, nearly half a decade since she first began working with the particular Yanomami, allowed for a representation on the evolution of her practice. Now, the show has travelled to London’s Barbican where it will operate from 17 June to 29 August 2021.

Andujar’s relationship with all the Yanomami leads the exhibit, as it did her profession: first her photographic experiments in how to capture the group’s exceptional way of life, followed by the job she created to safeguard it.

Andujar’s biography is complex and its effect on her work is central to the exhibition which was initially curated by Thyago Nogueira for the Instituto Moreira Salles, Brazil, in 2019, plus comprises 300 photographs from your photographer’s extensive archive. The timeline of her life, and significant events around it, runs through the show, giving context to the images exhibited. The photographer came to be in Switzerland in 1931 and grew up in Oradea, a town on the Romanian-Hungarian border. Her parents divorced when Andujar was 9 and the advent of World War II saw her father, and his prolonged family murdered at Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. The photographer fled along with her mother to Switzerland, from where she relocated to New York for several years just before rejoining her mother within São Paulo, Brazil, within 1955. It was here that Andujar’s relationship with digital photography, and her interest in marginalised and vulnerable communities, more and more indigenous societies, developed because she travelled across the country documenting what she encountered.

Journey simply by pirogue, Catrimani, Roraima, 1974 © Claudia Andujar.

In 1966, after deciding to pursue photography in a professional capacity and functioning as a photojournalist for several publications, Andujar joined the group of photographers established for your monthly periodical  Realidade  — a syndication noted for its long-form reportages. It was during her focus on a 320-page special problem, which was devoted to the nevertheless largely uncharted Amazon region and the impact of the army regime on it, that the lady first met the Yanomami. It was around this time that will Andujar’s commitment to photojournalism also faltered, and she received a grant from the Mark Simon Guggenheim Foundation, which usually facilitated the long-term, personal projects, she so preferred. Initially interested in photographing the particular Xikrin Indians, on the suggestion of a friend and Swiss ethnologist, in 1971, the girl went in search of the Yanomami living along the Catrimani River, which stretches from the Parima mountain range on the Brazil-Venezuela border, down to Manaus. The particular Yanomami reportedly originated from the area; today the community, comprising various tribes and clans, numbers somewhere around 36, 000 plus occupies an area spanning northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

“From the beginning, it was a relation of man to man, ” she explains in the exhibit catalogue, an affinity unquestionably motivated, in part, by the photographer’s personal history of repression plus displacement. The first two areas of the exhibition convey a sense of the photographer’s initial immersion. Dreamlike images suspended through the ceiling provide windows into the Yanomami’s everyday lives plus Andujar’s impression of them. Unfocused and abstracted, with many rendered in vivid colour, the photographs exude movement and life: expressive responses towards the mystical existence of a people the photographer was only beginning to understand. “At the time, it didn’t bother me not to understand the language of the Yanomami, ” she creates, “… I didn’t miss the exchange of words. I wanted to observe, absorb, to be able to recreate in the form of images what I was feeling. Perhaps conversation might even interfere. ”

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

From 1971 to 1977, Andujar travelled back and forth to Catrimini Lake for progressively longer periods. Here, the Yanomami neighborhood was still relatively unblemished — their traditions plus rituals isolated from Traditional western influence. Andujar participated within everyday activities: hunting trips, funeral feasts, and the ‘reahu’ :   both a commemoration of units between communities and a funeral ritual ,   to which a section of the exhibit is devoted alongside various other Yanomami ceremonies. She also photographed within the yano: big, cone-shaped communal houses inhabited by dozens of families that hummed with activity. Eschewing a journalistic or anthropological approach, Andujar developed her own visual language, one that would capture the nuances of the Yanomami’s isolated world, plus, in doing so, delved serious inside herself: “Photography could be the process of discovering the other plus, through the other, oneself, ” she writes. “Intrinsically, that is why the photographer seeks and discovers new worlds but in the end, always shows what is inside himself. ”

Herein lies the complexity of Andujar’s initial project: a white, foreigner documenting an indigenous local community could be read as exoticising; some would also believe Andujar glossed over the more dark elements of the Yanomami’s life-style. An article in  The New York Review of Textbooks , reviewing Andujar’s previous exhibition at Moreira Salles, mentions a 1968 book by the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon. He described the particular Yanomami as a machismo tradition, with different groups engaged in continuous warfare, provoked by the rape and abduction of their woman members. Other anthropologists and members of the Yanomami questioned this, and Chagnon likely exaggerated his assertions when they were true at all. However one must acknowledge that will Andujar’s images are deeply subjective, a fact that furthermore prevents them from feeling voyeuristic. Rather impulse prevails — a photographer committed to developing a visual language that could accurately represent a group by which she was increasingly invested.

Aracá, Amazonas/Surucucus, Roraima, 1983 © Claudia Andujar.

Andujar developed an aesthetic that was resolutely abstract. She would often apply Vaseline to her camera, allowing the edges of some images in order to melt away. The photographer used infrared film and colored filters to enhance the shades of her colour function; the darkness of the dense forest and interiors of the Yanomami’s homes demanded sensitive film and slow shutter speeds, which further blurry some stills. When documenting the various rituals of a ‘reahu’, Andujar applied multiple exposures to visually convey the rhythm and otherworldliness of the events during which shamans would call upon their spirits, ‘xapiri’, while tripping on hallucinogenic powder. In 1974, the girl also provided the community having an opportunity to express their decryption of nature and the universe in the form of drawing, resulting in complex illustrations that occupy the wall on the lower ground of the exhibition space. Exactly what emerged was an unparalleled depiction of Yanomami existence, an artistic response to a progressively more fragile and ethereal life, and, a record of Andujar’s creative development, which was veering more and further from her photojournalistic roots.

But , this would soon change. Within 1977, the National Indian Foundation, the branch of the Brazilian government devoted to insurance policies related to indigenous people, refused Andujar permission to return towards the Yanomami. At the beginning of the 10 years, the government, an authoritarian military dictatorship, established a growth program that would industrialise vast swathes of the Amazon. The particular construction of the Perimetral Norte highway, a section of the prepared Transamazonian highway that cut through indigenous people’s property, was initiated in 1973 and exposed the Yanomami to disease and turmoil, resulting in the deaths associated with thousands. The government likely identified Andujar as a threat — a witness to, plus spokesperson for, the plight of indigenous cultures, which is exactly what she became in the decades that followed. In the period it took her in order to regain access, she released three books, which heightened awareness of the Yanomami’s hardship among a wider demographic. And so began an era where the photographer abandoned her artistic practice. Instead, the medium became a vehicle for her activism.

Young woman in the hammock, collective house from the Korihana thëri family, Catrimani, Roraima, 1972–76 © Claudia Andujar.

Aside from Andujar’s images, presently there existed little documentation of the Yanomami. The community rejected the medium, concerned that pictures depicting them could fall into the wrong hands and be susceptible to sorcery. Furthermore, it was normal that any photographs, which did exist, be damaged following the death of the individual they will depicted. However , with the support of Davi Kopenawa, the Yanomami activist and shaman who the photographer fulfilled in 1977 and with who she collaborated closely, Andujar was able to convince the community that will visual records of their culture were central to the cause. She also acknowledged that will photography alone was not enough, and in 1978, alongside Kopenawa, the French anthropologist Bruce Albert and missionary Carlo Zacquini, Andujar founded the Comissão Pro-Yanomami (CCPY), embarking on a 14-year campaign to safeguard the particular Yanomami’s exceptional, yet gradually fragile, way of life.

Andujar returned to photojournalism during this period to support her politics and social campaigns. In the series  Marcados , from which a selection of images is usually displayed on the exhibition’s reduced floor, black-and-white headshots framework members of the Yanomami wearing large, numbered tags close to their necks. Andujar initially took the photographs in service of a vaccination program released by the CCPY in 1980, to identify members of the local community in their medical records. Nevertheless , returning to the work some years later, the photographer drew parallels between the numbered tags and the markings tattooed to the prisoners of Nazi concentration camps, her father and his family included. “It is that ambiguous sentiment that leads myself, 60 years later, to transform the simple registry of the Yanomami into the condition of ‘people’—marked to live—in a work that questions the method associated with labelling beings for diverse ends, ” she points out in the exhibition catalogue.

In 1992, the particular Yanomami’s land was finally demarcated, but this far from concluded their struggle, that has intensified today under the present Brazilian president Jair Messias Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro rejects demarcation, believing that Brazil’s local communities should be assimilated straight into Western society, promising in order to legalise mining, which is already widespread, and commercial farming on their land. His political election, part-way through the Paris exhibition’s conception, imbued the project with a heightened urgency plus significance. And, although it may not have been Andujar’s initial goal, as the show so deftly illustrates her oeuvre has become a timeless and powerful report of the troubled history of a residential area under ongoing threat.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography within 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, the girl was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed the BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, a thousand Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts publication.

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