Claudia Andujar, Yanomami Wrestling


Reopening of the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art, starting June 16, with the largest exhibition ever devoted to the work of the great Brazilian photographer Claudia Andujar who, since the 1970s, has dedicated her life to photography and to the defense of the Yanomami, one of the most important Amerindian people in the Brazilian Amazon.

I'm connected to the Indians, to the land, to the first struggle. All this touches me deeply. Everything seems essential to me. Perhaps I have always sought the answer to the meaning of life in this fundamental core. I was pushed there, in the Amazonian forest, for this reason. It was instinctive. I was looking for myself.
Claudia Andujar

The result of several years of research in the photographer's archives, this exhibition, conceived by Thyago Nogueira for the Instituto Moreira Salles in Brazil, presents her work through more than 300 black and white or colour photographs, many of which are unpublished, an audiovisual installation as well as drawings by Yanomami artists and historical documents. Reflecting the two inseparable sides of her approach, one aesthetic, the other political, it reveals both Claudia Andujar's major contribution to photographic art and the essential role she plays in defending the rights of the Yanomami Indians and the forest they inhabit.

Claudia Andujar came to Brazil, she went through São Paulo, then through Brasília and Boa Vista before reaching Yanomami land. She then arrived at the Catrimani Mission. She thought about her project, what she would do, what she would plant. Like we plant banana trees, like we plant cashew trees. She wore the clothes of the Indians, to make friends. She is not Yanomami, but she is a true friend. She took photographs of births, of women, of children. Then she taught me how to fight, how to defend my people, my land, my language, the customs, the feasts, the dances, the songs and the shamanism. She was like a mother to me, she explained things to me. I didn't know how to fight against politicians, against non-Americans. It's good that she gave me a bow and arrow not to kill white people, but the bow and arrow of the word, of my mouth and my voice to defend my Yanomami people.
It's very important that you look at his work. There are many photographs, many images of Yanomami who died, but these photographs are important so that you know and respect my people. Anyone who does not know him will know these images. My people are here, you have never visited them, but the image of the Yanomami is here.
It is important for you and for me, for your sons and daughters, for the young people, for the children, to learn to look at and respect my Brazilian Yanomami people who have lived on this land for so long."
Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

Candinha and Mariazinha Korihana thëri clean the curasow, whose feathers are used to throw arrows, Catrimani, Roraima State, Brazil, 1974. Photo © Claudia Andujar.

An interpretation of Yanomami culture

Born in 1931 in Neuchâtel, Claudia Andujar lives in São Paulo. After a childhood in Transylvania, she moved to Switzerland with her mother during the Second World War to escape Nazi persecution in Eastern Europe. Her father, a Hungarian Jew, is deported to Dachau where he is exterminated along with most of his family. After the war, Claudia Andujar immigrated to the United States and settled permanently in 1955 in Brazil, where she began a career as a photojournalist.

She met the Yanomami Indians for the first time in 1971 when she was involved in a report on the Amazon for Realidade magazine. Fascinated, she decided to undertake in-depth photographic work on the world of the Yanomami thanks to a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. Her approach differs markedly from the documentary style of her contemporaries. The photographs taken during this period show the various techniques she experimented with to translate what she perceived of the shamanic experience of the Yanomami Indians. By applying vaseline to the lens of her camera, using infrared film or playing with light, she creates visual distortions that imbue her images with a certain surreality.

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Claudia Andujar also produces numerous black and white portraits through which she captures the nobility and humanity of the Yanomami people. She favours tight shots of faces or body fragments, and creates chiaroscuro effects to create a sense of intimacy and empathetically highlight the interiority of her subjects. At the same time and in order to better understand their culture, she proposes to the Yanomami to represent their metaphysical universe themselves by providing them with paper, pens and felt-tip pens. A selection of these drawings showing mythological or ritual scenes and shamanic visions is presented in the exhibition.

Photo © Luc Boegly

Political activism

The end of the 1970s marked a turning point in Claudia Andujar's career. The construction by the Brazilian military government of the Trans-Amazon Highway in the south of the Yanomami territory opened up the region to deforestation and agricultural colonization projects, and caused the destruction of entire communities by encouraging the spread of epidemics. This dramatic situation reminds Claudia Andujar of the genocide she witnessed in Europe, and this awareness leads her to commit herself fully to the struggle for the defence of the rights of the Yanomami and the protection of their forest. In 1978, together with the missionary Carlo Zacquini and the anthropologist Bruce Albert, she founded the Commissão Pro-Yanomami (CCPY) and embarked on a campaign lasting almost fifteen years to demarcate their territory, an essential condition for the physical and cultural survival of this people. Her activism then took precedence over her artistic work and photography became a secondary concern for her, whose vocation was now to support the cause of the Yanomami.

It was at this time that Claudia Andujar, during a vaccination campaign, took black and white photographs of Yanomami wearing a number around her neck to identify them on medical cards. She would later use these photographs in one of her most famous series, the "Marcados [Marqués]". The ambiguity of these images lies in the uneasiness created by the digital identification of individuals, which is not unlike the tattooing of Jews during the Shoah, although the process is here, conversely, put in place for the survival of a people. Unpublished photographs from this series will be unveiled for the first time in the exhibition In reaction to the decrees signed in February 1989 by the Brazilian government to dismember the Yanomami territory into an archipelago of nineteen micro-reserves, Claudia Andujar created Genocide of the Yanomami: Death of Brazil (1989-2018), an audiovisual manifesto based on photographs from her archives, which she re-photographed using various filters and lighting. This work, presented in a new version produced for the occasion, is the highlight of the exhibition and shows the upheaval of an Amerindian world devastated by the predation of Western civilization. A soundtrack composed by Marlui Miranda from Yanomami songs and experimental music accompanies the installation.

In 1992, thanks to the relentless struggle led by Claudia Andujar, Carlo Zacquini, Bruce Albert and the shaman and spokesman for the Yanomami Indians Davi Kopenawa, the Brazilian government agreed to legally recognize the Yanomami territory. The integrity of this territory, approved on the eve of the United Nations General Conference on the Environment held the same year in Rio, is still threatened today by a massive invasion of gold diggers and deforestation caused by ranchers.

Claudia Andujar

By retracing the struggle of a lifetime and revealing the formal richness of Claudia Andujar's work, the exhibition Claudia Andujar, La Lutte Yanomami shows for the first time her work in all its beauty and complexity. It offers an immersion into the cosmological universe and the daily life of the Yanomami people as well as a powerful political indictment of the abuses they suffer.

The Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art has been supporting the Yanomami cause and the work of Claudia Andujar for twenty years. Claudia Andujar and Yanomami artists such as Taniki, Joseca, Ehuana and Kalepi have participated in several exhibitions and are among the artists in the Cartier Foundation's collection.
The Fondation Cartier is pleased to announce the exceptional presence of Claudia Andujar, Davi Kopenawa, Bruce Albert and Thyago Nogueira at the opening events of the exhibition. They will also take part in the Yanomami Night organized on this occasion.

To accompany the exhibition, the Fondation Cartier is publishing a catalogue in three versions (French, English, Italian), which presents the artist's photographs and excerpts from his notebooks, as well as Yanomami drawings made at his request in the 1970s. Texts by Claudia Andujar, Thyago Nogueira and Bruce Albert, as well as a map of the Yanomami territory and a chronology document both the artist's commitment and the history of one of the last great peoples of the Amazonian forest. The catalogue is in the running for the Paris Photo-Aperture Prize for the photographic catalogue of the year.

Within the framework of the partnership between the Fondation Cartier and Triennale Milano, Claudia Andujar, La Lutte Yanomami will be presented in Milan from autumn 2020. 

The exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Instituto Moreira Salles (Brazil) and is supported by the Yanomami Hutukara Association (Boa Vista) and the Instituto Socioambiental (São Paulo and Boa Vista).

Curator of the exhibition Thyago Nogueira, Director of the Department of Contemporary Photography of the Instituto Moreira Salles (Brazil), assisted by Valentina Tong.
Curator : Leanne Sacramone, assisted by Juliette Lecorne
Exhibition organized in collaboration with the Instituto Moreira Salles (São Paulo)

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Exhibition Claudia Andujar, The Yanomami Wrestling, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain - June 16 to September 13, 2020
The spaces of the Cartier Foundation will once again be open to the public with a system complying with the strictest health recommendations in order to welcome visitors and teams in the best possible conditions.

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Header photo Maloca near the Catholic mission on the Catrimani River, infrared film, Roraima State, Brazil, 1976. Photo © Claudia Andujar.

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