Luminous Moment

A+ a-
posted on 07/19/2017
The curator Gabriel Bogossian talks about Claudia Andujar’s work with the Yanomamis in the struggle against Brazil’s colonial heritage

Claudia Andujar, one of the leading contemporary Brazilian photographers, had her work marked by the life with the Yanomami people, to which she came closer in the early 1970s. On July 29, Saturday, at 3 p.m., Andujar talks with the public and with the curator Gabriel Bogossian, in the closing event of the exhibition Nada levarei quando morrer, aqueles que me devem cobrarei no inferno.

Andujar participates in the exhibition, which is on view at Galpão VB, with two works: the slideshow Catrimani and the photograph Casulo humano (rito mortuário Yanomami) [Human Cocoon (Yanomami Death Rite)]. Additionally, one of her photographs is the starting point for Gisela Motta e Leandro Lima’s installation Yano-a (Wakata-ú – Terra Indígena Yanomami) [Yano-a (Wakata-ú – Yanomami Indigenous Land)]; and, in the Reading Room, the books Yanomami, Marcados [Marked] and No lugar do outro [In the Place of the Other].

In the interview below, Bogossian discusses the importance of Andujar’s work as aesthetic and political resistance to the territorial expansion promoted by the Brazilian government in the second half of the 20th century.

From the Catrimani series, featured at Galpão VB


In the exhibition’s closing event, you will moderate Claudia Andujar’s debate with the public and, before that, you will give a brief presentation of her work. Which aspects do you intend to emphasize?

I think it is important to shed light on the historical context in which Claudia’s works were produced, the material facts that made her realize, as an artist, the possible place of action inside a rather adverse situation. I understand Claudia’s work is a luminous moment at a time in which progress revealed its more destructive side.


Are you referring to the military dictatorship?

Yes, but not only this. Brazil’s history is one of territorial expansion by means of invasion and conquering of indigenous land. The colonial undertaking that started in the 16th century acted mainly in two fronts—enslaving African workers and eliminating the original peoples. Rooted in the late 19th century, but gaining momentum throughout the 20th century, a modern developmental project was put into practice, but which saw itself forced to eliminate slavery, although it did so without solving the issue of labor altogether. This is what several interpreters of Brazil call conservative modernization, meaning: on the drawing board the design is modern, but at the construction site the relations of labor are pre-modern. The issue of the invasion of indigenous land, in turn, makes up a continuum without significant changes. The Brazilian State project is explicitly colonial to date.


How does this colonization occur in the 20th century?

It is worth pointing out three moments. First, the two Getúlio Vargas’s presidential terms (1930–1945 and 1951–1954), especially the first one. Vargas promoted the first projects of the Villas-Bôas brothers, mapped the state of Mato Grosso, etc. The second moment is the democratic intermezzo between 1954 and 1964. In this period, Brasília’s inauguration is an interesting milestone, which can be interpreted as a symbolic pinnacle for the conquest of the country’s mid-west, a development or culmination of the program Vargas devised. On the second-to-last public program of the exhibition, Paulo Tavares discussed at length the relationship of the construction of Brasília with the Carajá people, which inhabited the region, and the colonialist traces of Lucio Costa’s perspective.

The third moment is situated in the 1960s and 1970s, with the military dictatorship’s road expansion. This is the most radical of the three cycles, the most violent one, because the objectives were more ambitious and opposition was tamed. This favored a radical action by the government in conquering the indigenous territories.


What type of radicalism was it?

Part of the dictatorship’s military bureaucrats had trained at Escola Superior de Guerra [Political, Strategic, and Defense Studies Centre], and consumed a bibliography that was nationalist, paranoid, very typical of the Cold War, which preached the defense of national borders, including those of the Amazon territory, which was purported under constant risk of invasion. This mindset reclaimed a somewhat mythical figure of the military engineer, and engineering regiments were created to build roads.

The main instrument of this plan for internal colonization, therefore, is a major road expansion program, which was carried out by completing roads that were built by previous governments or, in more ambitious and violent cases, building roads at an unprecedented speed thus far. To that end, a great effort was put both into controlling the information that reached the wider public as well as limiting government agencies that could, internally, bring tension into the process.

This occurred mainly with Funai (National Indian Foundation), which was created in 1968 to replace the Indian Protection Service (SPI). Funai was born already inheriting SPI’s flaws and boxed in by a government with a different project to that which some of the employees wanted it to carry out. It is interesting pointing out the ambiguity of that agency, which is drawn up by the government to serve as a go-between with the indigenous peoples, but this is a mediation that varies according to the governmental interests of the moment.


Did Claudia Andujar reach the Yanomami through Funai?

No, she got in contact with them first through the Realidade magazine, which published in October of 1971 a special edition on the Amazon.

The Amazon is a recurring theme-product in the Brazilian editorial capitalism, is time and again revisited—such as Christmas or the Carnaval. We could make an exhibition out of the ways the Brazilian press approaches the Amazon—Veja magazine has a handful of special editions, Globo Repórter produced numerous news reports, and so on. Realidade was one of the most sophisticated editorial products of the Abril group at the time and published this edition, which was very expensive, with the participation of several journalists and photojournalists—Claudia among them.


Around this time, had the Yanomamis already made contact with the colonizers?

They had, from the first decades of the 20th century they’d had occasional contacts with piaçaveiros [rural workers], hunters, and other people that might enter the territory. They also had a relatively stable contact with a catholic mission located near the Catrimani river, Missão Catrimani.

But going back to the Realidade magazine, it is interesting pointing out that this first register made by Claudia is integrated into an editorial product that had a very clear project—to report on the Amazon in that context is, at the same time, to sell the Amazon. Simultaneously to the several news articles, there are a series of amazing advertisements, which explicitly attempt to sell the territory, just as there are many companies defending their ventures in the Transamazônica: lumber companies, gas stations, banks, etc. And the magazine publishes four of Claudia’s photos, including the cover.


Above, photo by Claudia Andujar in the magazine Realidade (Oct. 1971). Below, advertisiment pieces published in the same issue: "Virgin land. Land that needs to be possessed," says the ad from the state of Goiás; "To the Amazon that will replace malnutrition, unemployment, uninhabited and coveted voids, with progress, development, wealth, and welfare," says the ad from the oil company Petróleo Sabbá S.A.


So the Catrimani series, which is exhibited here at Galpão VB, began to be developed for Realidade?

Not exactly. The series was developed after this photojournalism project—perhaps, more precisely, from it. The images published in the magazine are not part of the series. They have a similar sweetness, looking into the domestic environment of the Yanomamis, but it’s not exactly this register.

After this project for the magazine, Claudia went on working nonstop with the Yanomamis until 1977, when the government banished her from the territory because of her activism. A few years later, between 1981 and 1983, she returned to help in the vaccination project of the natives. In 2008, these photos formed the Marcados [Marked] series.

What seems important to emphasize is that, in all of these moments, Claudia’s work is bringing tension into the project of internal colonization of the Brazilian government because one of the arguments that justified this project was that the Amazon was an empty, uninhabited land. By portraying the Yanomami people with an affectionate, respectful regard, Claudia produced, from within this cycle of violence, a shift, a discursive antidote against the voracity of the government, in favor of the victims of the Brazilian State.


Did her photographic work continue after this series?

Yes. She has a very important role as an activist, she founded the Pro-Yanomami Commission [link], for instance, but she goes on working as a photographer. The Sonhos [Dreams] series, for instance, is a combination of images produced since 1976 through to the early 2000s, revisiting a rather extensive material, an attempt at representing the shamanic trance. The Yanomami book itself is a sort of unfolding of her approach of the Catrimani series, focused on everyday life and affectionate relationships, but departing from different technical assumptions, such as black and white photography and the investigation of light within the malocas [indigenous houses].

The entire period she spent with the Yanomamis leads her to produce material that will be organized, edited, and processed afterwards, at times in series, at others somewhat dispersedly.


In your opinion, the reception to Claudia’s work usually has a historic perspective that you pointed out?

The Marcados book brings a bit of this perspective by attempting to understand the place of trauma in her work, especially because of Stella Senra’s essay entitled “O último círculo” [The Last Circle]. Overall, however, the reception tends to concentrate in the fascination with the different, with the other. I don’t think her work justifies this, but rather the interpreters are in general less able to understand her work in relation to the history of quasi-governmental Indianism, for instance, which is empowered as of the emergence of Funai, in contrast to what it inherits from SPI and its colonizing role.

Claudia’s photography emerges in direct contact with this quasi-governmental Indianism, mainly the one linked with the Catholic Church. She is an important interlocutor of this activism, especially because she produces a powerful speech, luminous even, with an unprecedented poetic strength.


Casulo humano (rito mortuário Yanomami), photograph featured at Galpão VB



WHAT: Talk with Claudia Andujar moderated by Gabriel Bogossian
WHEN: July 29, Saturday, às 15h
WHERE: Galpão VB (Av. Imperatriz Leopoldina, 1.150, São Paulo)

Confirm your presence on our Facebook event page