Claudia Andujar. The Yanomami struggle

Claudia Andujar. The Yanomami struggle

Claudia Andujar was born in Switzerland in 1931, but her origins are Jewish-Hungarian origins; her father, during the Second World War, was deported to the Dachau camp, where he was killed along with many family members.  Her mother fled to Switzerland to move first to New York and finally, in 1955, to Brazil, where Claudia Andujar embarked on a photographic career. She met the Yanomami people in 1971 while she was writing an article about Amazonia for Realidade magazine. After that first meeting with the Yanomami she never went away, carrying out an in-depth study through photography. Her style is not simply documentary but experiments with different varieties of photographic techniques and effects, in an attempt to visually render shamanic culture as much as possible. She transforms images by spreading petroleum jelly on the lens, using infrared films, distortions and plays of light and shadow, giving the images an almost spiritual dimension.

The exhibition The Yanomami Struggle, curated by Thyago Nogueira, Director of the Contemporary Photography Department of the Instituto Moreira Salles in Brazil, presents the work of Claudia Andujar at Triennale Milano Foundation through more than 300 black and white or color photographs, an audiovisual installation, historical documents, a film and some drawings made by Yanomami artists. Through the research of the photographer the culture of this people is told, also helping them to acquire a dignity in the eyes of government institutions, especially in Brazil, which did not recognize them as legitimate inhabitants of the Amazon rainforest.

The territory of the Yanomami in Brazil is twice the size of Switzerland, while in Venezuela it occupies the Casiquiare-Alto Orinoco Biosphere Reserve. The first contact between the Yanomami and other cultures occurred in the 1940s when the Brazilian government sent troops to delimit the border with Venezuela. The Indian Protection Service (SPI) and missionaries quickly settled in the area. The arrival of these settlers brought the first measles and flu epidemics, which resulted in the deaths of many Yanomami. In the early 1970s the military government decided to build a road, the Perimetral Norte, which crossed the Amazon and which was later abandoned. The bulldozers broke in without warning and two villages were hit by diseases to which the inhabitants had no immunity. Gold miners also arrived, destroying the forest, a place that is sacred and alive to the population. Following these events and after a long international campaign led by David Kopenawa, Yanomami spokesperson considered one of the most influential leaders in the defense of the Amazon and the indigenous communities that live there, Survival International and the CCPY (the Pro Yanomami Commission founded by the missionary Carlo Zacquini, anthropologist Bruce Albert and Claudia Andujar) in 1992, after fourteen years, the Brazilian land of the Yanomami was finally demarcated as “Yanomami Park” and the gold diggers were expelled. The Yanomami territory is still threatened today by deforestation and mining, not fully and legally recognized, at risk as more than half of the population has been decimated by colonizing and violent interventions, also suffering from the devastating impact of the road that led there diseases and alcohol. “We know that the dead join the ghosts of our elders on the back of the sky, where the game is abundant and the festivals incessant.”

Claudia Andujar’s audiovisual project, Genocide of the Yanomami: Death of Brazil, accompanied by the soundtrack composed by Marlui Miranda which combines Yanomami songs and experimental music, takes the visitor from a world of harmony to one devastated by the progress of Western civilization, narrating the abuses suffered by the Yanomami over the decades to date. The exhibition, open until 7 February 2021, by Claudia Andujar with the active collaboration of David Kopinawa, therefore uses photographic documentation, combined with political activism, becoming a medium for affirming the legality of the Amerindian people. As Kopinawa himself states “it is important for me and for you, your sons and daughters, young adults, children to learn to see and respect my Yanomami people of Brazil who have lived in this land for many years.”

The black and white portraits capture dignity, the fragments of the immortalized bodies evoke a feeling of closeness with the subject, creating a process of identification and exchange. The drawings presented in the exhibition are a further medium of cohesion, giving them the opportunity to represent themselves, but also to represent their conception of nature and the universe through popular myths, rituals and shamanic visions. The spiritual world is a fundamental part of the life of the Yanomami: every creature, rock, tree and mountain, the entire space of the land-forest is covered by spirits that play and dance, they are called xapiripë. Sometimes the hostile spirits, the oka, attack the Yanomami and bring disease. Shamans control these spirits by inhaling a hallucinogen called yakoana. David Kopenawa, who is also a shaman, explains: “only those who know the xapiripë can see them, because they are very small and shine like sparkling specks of dust. There are many, many xapiripë, not a few, but thousands, like the stars. “

The exhibition, with the partnership of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, exhibits the largest retrospective dedicated to the work and activism of the photographer Claudia Andujar, who in collaboration with the complex and fascinating Yanomami people, restores a cosmological vision of their culture and dignity, capturing their life intimately. The exhibition unfolds the debate in recent years on how to preserve the territories of these communities and how the colonizing impact on the Amazon rainforest is visibly threatening the population. The respect demanded by the Yanomami is also respect for the natural ecosystem, which is also an integral part of our life, despite our distance from it. Also in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit the entire planet, the already fragile Amerindian population is completely devoid of adequate health care, in a climate of general indifference. “Our ancestors inhabited the sources of his rivers long before the birth of my fathers and long before the ancestors of the Whites were born.”


Claudia Andujar. The Yanomami struggle
curated by Thyago Nogueira
17 October 2020 – 7 February 2021
Triennale – Palazzo dell’arte
Viale Emilio Alemagna 6 – Milano
T+39 02 72434-1

Claudia AndujarClaudia Andujar, La lotta Yanomami, installation view at Triennale Milano, 2020. Ph Andrea Rossetti

Claudia Andujar, The young Wakatha u thëri, victim of measles, is treated by the shamans and paramedics of the Catholic Mission, Catrimani, Roraima, 1976. Infrared film, 68 × 102 cm

Claudia Andujar, Inside a collective house near the Catrimani River, Roraima, 1974. Print on silver gelatin, 68 × 102 cm

Disegno di Naki Uxima / Orlando, Some enemy sorcerers (oka) throw evil substances into the fire to cause an epidemic, 1976


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