In recent years, the Yanomami tribe in Brazil has suffered from epidemics, deforestation and fires, and in the meantime, Claudia Andujar has helped them fight back.
In the dense Amazon rainforests that stretch along the border between Brazil and Venezuela, one of South America's largest indigenous tribes fears for its future.
the Yanomami homeland
Aggressive deforestation has swept through the Yanomami tribe's homeland. The influx of thousands of gold miners since the 1980s has triggered measles and flu epidemics that have decimated the indigenous population. And after a year of devastating forest fires in 2019, some fear that the climate crisis could spell the end of an ancient culture.
Eighty-nine-year-old photographer and activist Claudia Andujar has spent five decades photographing and campaigning for the Yanomami. "This has been the story of my life". Her vast archive, now the subject of a major retrospective in Paris (currently closed due to the Coronavirus crisis), offers an unparalleled insight into the world of the Yanomami and the existential threats they face. Through some 200 photographs and a video installation, Andujar's work offers a kaleidoscopic view of Yanomami life that, he hopes, will be more than a document of a different way of life. Photography, for Andujar, is not art for art's sake, but art in defence of a dying people.
Yanomami Tribe : Male or Female
After arriving in Brazil, Andujar travelled extensively and met the Yanomami in the early 1970s on an expedition with a local anthropologist. "When the women of the Yanomami tribe first saw me, they were not sure if I was a man or a woman because I was wearing clothes and they were not," he recalls. "They started touching me and undressing me to find out which one I was. When they found out I was a woman, they invited me to live with them.
Although portraits from his early years in the Amazon would be published in Realidade, a Brazilian magazine dedicated to photojournalism and reportage, Andujar's work in the 1970s offers a silent rebuke to any commitment of photojournalism to distance or objectivity. "I felt I had to get to know the Yanomami before I photographed them," he says. By integrating into the community, Andujar gained access to rituals normally closed to outsiders and came to shoot the Yanomami with an intimate knowledge of their social, political and spiritual worldview.
Yanomami Tribe : the Amazon
Andujar's work captures not only individuals but also the shamanic culture that organises Yanomami life. Yanomami cosmology understands the Amazon as a material environment traversed by spirits, known as xapiri, a space where different spiritual planes converge beyond the perception of the senses. Rituals, enhanced by natural hallucinogens, allow the Yanomami to communicate with and appease the spirits of the forest. Using Vaseline-stained lenses, long exposures and infrared filters, Andujar's images blur and move as if embedded with both the people and the spirits of the forest.