Claudia Andujar: anthropophagie?, fényképezés, yanõmami!
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“I don’t have time anymore to take photographs. I actually do much more than photography, which is a minimal thing.” — Claudia Andujar
The contact triggered by colonization of the already inhabited lands of the “New World” incentivized the disintegration of many peoples. It also brought about the establishment of figures of expression and strategies such as anthropophagy. These forms of expression and strategies arose in response to a demand for answers to questions concerning indigenous reality in the face of history and, in the art scene, have held different meanings for different artists, especially since the 1960s. Within this context, there is an interest in anthropophagy and how it relates to the work of Claudia Andujar, the Swiss-born Brazilian photographer who spent her childhood in Transylvania before WWII forced her to move to the United States and eventually immigrate to Brazil in 1955. An important part of her works since the 1970s are committed to the Yanõmami cause in the Amazon, particularly the photo essays and series such as Sonhos Yanõmami (Yanõmami Dreams), Marcados (Marked), A casa ou A Floresta (The House or The Forest), O Reahy (Reahy). But, though she was accompanying the daily life and shamanic culture within the Yanõmami world, her work abstains from falling into anthropophagy. Rather, it seems more connected with an affective pact she made with the people she photographed, as we will see in the following three points.
Upon reading texts and exhibition materials related to Andujar’s photography from figures such as Carolina Soares, Ana Maria Mauad, Thyago Nogueira, Lisette Lagnado, Davi Kopenawa, Bruce Albert and Laymert Garcia dos Santos, I realized that these writers do not approach the photographer’s production as a resignification of anthropophagous strategies or themes. Instead of considering images and representations of indigenous groups in terms of a contemporary anthropophagy, Andujar’s capacity to create complicity, a bond, and a political activism and visual experience is foremost in interpretations of her photography. The only exception to this position is the curatorial proposal of Paulo Herkenhoff in the exhibitions A espessura da luz (The Thickness of Light, 1994) and Na sombra das luzes (In the Shadow of Lights, 1998), that was part of the 24th São Paulo Biennial, better known as the “Anthropophagy Biennial.” But even Herkenhoff has made clear that his choices of “anthropophagous photography” are mostly directed towards Miguel Rio Branco, whose work has a much more colorful, baroque, violent, carnival and symbolic type of connection with the cultural and visual tradition of Anthropophagy. This positioning helps us to locate Andujar’s photographic project on the Yanõmami as something other than an anthropophagous strategy, while precisely delimiting what can and what necessarily cannot be considered as such.
Another route to take in order to elaborate on how anthropophagous the photography of Andujar may or may not be is to search for traces and commentaries in the discourse of the photographer herself. The significant number of interviews granted by Andujar, principally starting in the 2000s, were a sophisticated act of memory that now help us understand the paths she followed and strived for in her photography and activism. For example, she explained that “now, after two decades of almost exclusive engagement in the defense of their rights [of the Yanõmami], I feel the need to tune out and synthesize the photographic work that I lived so intensely.” That intensity appears to grant authority to her work on the extensive Yanõmami visual archive and the range of photographs taken in the Amazonian region by experimental instruments and procedures including infrared film and colored filters (red and blue), and the circulation of these images in photographic books.
In order to expand on what indigenous themes may signify within their relationship to Andujar's work and photography itself, Andujar’s own possible definitions of photography are an important tool. This is because the technological, political and cultural nature of photography is an integral part of the systemic instability of the contemporary. Photography tries to remain in time, and contextualize itself by means of new visualities and ways of life.
I call attention particularly to the affective experience of Andujar’s personal and photographic trajectory. All of which seems to approach what theorist of photography Ariella Aisha Azoulay calls a photographic event: “as resulting from an encounter between several protagonists that might take on various forms” with the participation of a camera, the reading of photographic images or even the mere knowledge that photography was (or could have been) produced. In this sense, photography helped Andujar to put herself in the place of the other. Ultimately, she sought to reach out to different people and social groups, and establish some kind of dialogue, understanding, empathy and the sharing of vulnerability. Understanding Andujar in this way makes even more sense if we remember her own journey: a childhood in Hungarian Transylvania, passing through Switzerland, the United States, and finally Brazil. Fényképezés, Photographie, Photography, Fotografia.
Due to the fact that Andujar’s activism and photographic production occurred in relationship to indigenous experience—daily practice and cosmology of the Yanõmami—her photography seems to distinguish itself considerably from the cultural strategies of anthropophagy. This is evident in Andujar’s lack of distinction between the affect of life and photographic practice, not according to vanguardist expectations, but rather as a result of the impossibility of neutrality between photography and life experience (this idea of supposed neutrality is still strangely present in some anthropological and scientific photography). This distinction occurs because the poetic and political commitments of the photographer allow her to experience affectivity and complicity in the photographic event, avoiding the reduction of the image to the realm of the exotic and escaping the trap of offering the Yanõmami up as a colonial spectacle.
Andujar’s photography turned into a recognition of the limits and potentialities of her contribution in relationship to the other. Or, in her words, “what I had to say about the Yanõmami, through photography, I managed to say.” This position reveals the achievement of a photographic project that demands participation, cooperation and perhaps sharing the project with other actors. This type of sharing is what Eduardo Viveiro de Castro calls a pact or dialogue between biographies and a convergent political project (not free of difficulties). Andujar’s photography seeks to stimulate and interweave the contributions between different engaged parts involved in partnerships to constitute a common narrative. At the same time that heterogenous points of view clearly enter into play, they are compared, translated and negotiated through the photography. Her photographic affect therefore resides in the fact that she does not deny the indigenous a radically “horizontal” aesthetic and philosophical interlocution with our society such as the absolute contemporaneity of the Yanõmami.