The struggle of the Yanomami, through the eyes of Claudia Andujar

yanomami Photo: Claudia Andujar/IMS Rio/Collection

The story of the golden age of Brazilian reportage photography cannot be told without Realidade magazine, this precious source of long-form literary journalism covered the country’s most pressing social and cultural issues throughout the 1960s and 1970s, always with shocking portraits accompanying flowing, engaging narratives. 

</p> <p>The magazine went out of circulation in 1976, but the seed of its humanistic style lives on. These days, <em>Piauí</em> magazine bears the standard of long-form journalism in Brazil, while some of <em>Realidade</em>&#8216;s photojournalists have gone on to worldwide fame. This is the case of Claudia Andujar, the 88-year-old Swiss-born Brazilian photographer who has dedicated her life&#8217;s work to the struggle of the Yanomami indigenous tribe.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="Photo: Claudia Andujar/IMS Rio/Collection " class="wp-image-25473" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Claudia Andujar/IMS Rio/Collection </figcaption></figure> <p>Her work flourishes once again in a two-floor exhibition at Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s <a href="">Moreira Salles Institute</a>, which runs until November 10.</p> <p>“The Yanomami land is the part of Brazil I know best,” she tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. Born in 1931 in Neuchatel, Switzerland, Claudia spent her childhood between Romania and Hungary, as World War II broke out. The daughter of a Jewish father, she fled to Austria with her mother to escape persecution, while the rest of her family perished at the Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany.&nbsp;</p> <p>After some years in the United States, where she studied humanities at Hunter College in New York, she came to Brazil for the first time to live with her mother. At that time, in 1955, the soon to be worldwide renowned artist took her first steps in journalism, using her camera lens to tell stories. “I only became a photographer in Brazil. One of the reasons is because I didn’t speak Portuguese, so it was the only way I could communicate with the Brazilian people,&#8221; she laughs.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="yanomami claudia andujar" class="wp-image-25475" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Claudia Andujar/IMS Rio/Collection  </figcaption></figure> <p>In five years freelancing for <em>Realidade </em>(1966–1971), Andujar made her first contact with the Yanomami tribes, which live predominantly on Brazil&#8217;s northern border with Venezuela. After photographing the indigenous people, she developed a long connection with <a href="">the struggle involving the demarcation of indigenous reservations in Brazil</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>She tells <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong><em> </em>that her career as an artist, professional and activist began all at once. “I started with photography [in the Amazon], and soon began fighting for the demarcation of the Yanomami land. It was essential at the time; I&#8217;ve been committed to the cause ever since.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The Yanomami indigenous territory lies in the northern Brazilian states of Amazonas and Roraima, straddling the border into Venezuela at some points. The current indigenous population living in this 96,000-kilometer expanse is a total of 35,000 people, according to <a href="">NGO Survival Brasil</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Claudia Andujar has dedicated her life to these communities. Today, her entire body of work has become as current as ever amid the radical shift Brazil&#8217;s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has promoted in the country&#8217;s environmental policy. Besides the <a href="">Amazon fire crisis</a> in August, which saw the Brazilian government come in <a href="">for criticism around </a>the globe, Mr. Bolsonaro’s administration has also been strongly opposed by <a href="">indigenous communities</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The [Bolsonaro] government worries me,&#8221; says Andujar. &#8220;The president once stated that he wants to occupy demarcated land. The Yanomami have their own culture, and they need to be free to have their land. I hope they don’t change it.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="indigenous amazon brazil" class="wp-image-25474" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Claudia Andujar/IMS Rio/Collection </figcaption></figure> <h2>Setbacks for the indigenous cause</h2> <p>On April 19, Yanomami and Yek’wana leaders signed a letter repudiating Jair Bolsonaro, who stated that demarcated indigenous lands must “be opened up” to mining activities. “In the state of Roraima, there are trillions of Reais under the soil. The indigenous people have the right to exploit this responsibly,&#8221; he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>In response, native communities refuted the idea that they were &#8220;poor&#8221; and willing to mine their ancestral lands. For Thyago Nogueira, the curator of the exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, Andujar’s latest showcase turned out to be another answer to the current shifting of forces in Brazil.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“The art event was first a tribute to Claudia’s role at the head of the Yanomami cause. I never thought it would become an urgent message to stop all the stupid speech against indigenous people that we see today,” he says.&nbsp;</p> <p>Nogueira had to select around 200 images from Andujar&#8217;s collection of over 40,000 photographs. During his research, he says that he had to travel through time, back to the early years of Andujar&#8217;s activism. The problems the Yanomami faced back then &#8220;shocked&#8221; him all over again in what is apparently a &#8220;new chapter&#8221; of an old issue.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="Photo: Claudia Andujar/IMS Rio/Collection " class="wp-image-25472" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo: Claudia Andujar/IMS Rio/Collection </figcaption></figure> <p>“The military dictatorship (1964–1985) spread the idea of <a href="">acculturating the indigenous people</a>, integrating them, saying that they didn’t want to live on their land or that they wanted to become consumers. Claudia fought against that kind of mentality. But now, this indigenous genocide is repeating itself.”</p> <p>After five months on show in São Paulo, the remarkable work of Claudia Andujar <a href="">has been exhibited at Rio&#8217;s Moreira Salles Institute</a> since July 7, where it will stay until November 11. In December, the itinerant exposition will go overseas, to the <a href="">Fondation Cartier</a> in Paris. 

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.