Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain

Claudia Andujar and the Yanomami struggle

, July 10, 2020

On June 11 took place the second symposium of Towards the XXIII International Exhibition of Triennale Milano, entitled The Earth seen from the Moon. The symposium was part of a three-appointment series that address some key issues of our present. Below is the speech by Grazia Quaroni Director of Collections at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain.

The Earth seen from the Moon, the second symposium of Towards the XXIII International Exhibition of Triennale Milano

An update about the situation in Amazonia: as of June 6, four Yanomami people have died from COVID-19 in the Amazonian forest and dozens are infected. Gold miners, called garimperos, are the main cause of the spread. Yanomami associations, like Hutukara, have launched a campaign called #MinersOutCovidOut, to collect 100,000 signatures on a petition calling on President Bolsonaro’s Brazilian government to expel the miners from their territory. The Yanomami territory is the largest area of rainforest under indigenous control in the world, and has been since 1992.

On July 15th the Fondation Cartier in Paris reopened its spaces with the exhibition Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle. The Fondation Cartier has exhibited and supported the work of Claudia Andujar for twenty years. For over five decades, Claudia Andujar has devoted her life to photographing and supporting the Yanomami through her work, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous group. This Brazilian artist, who is now in her eighties, has always given her art a dual nature, committed to both aesthetics and activism. She visually interprets the complex Yanomami culture and makes it accessible to a large public, and she has always had an activist side, using her photography as a tool for political change. For fifty years, she worked side by side with the Yanomami to support them in organizing themselves to talk directly to politicians.

The young Susi Korihana thëri swimming, infrared film, Catrimani, Roraima, 1972–74, © Claudia Andujar

As Davi Kopenawa Yanomami said: “She is not Yanomami, but she is a true friend. I did not know how to fight against politicians, against the non-indigenous people. It was good that she gave me the bow and arrow as a weapon, not for killing whites but for speaking in defense of the Yanomami people.” Fragility of all species and especially ours is a key point of many discussions nowadays. Claudia Andujar’s work was able to reveal the fragility of the people living in the forest but it gives a real concrete contribution to make them stronger, to stand up for their own survival in a very difficult situation as it is Brazilian reality nowadays.

Bruce Albert, an anthropologist who has been at the side of Claudia Andujar and Yanomami people for decades, is of course involved in our exhibition as an invaluable consultant. He wrote in The New York Times dated April 27, 2020:

The Yanomami people are no strangers to fatal epidemics, and yet on April 9, many around the world were shocked to learn that Covid-19 had taken its first victim among this relatively isolated Indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest along the Brazil-Venezuela border. This appalling episode has raised the specter of a major new health disaster among the Yanomami people. And it is a warning for other Indigenous people of the Amazon.

Today, we are all frightened about Covid-19. What we’re feeling is perhaps not unlike what the Yanomami have historically experienced when faced with the mysterious and lethal epidemics that our world has inflicted on them. …

The expansion of the internal colonization frontier intensified in the 1970s when Brazil’s military dictatorship opened the Perimetral Norte highway in Yanomami territory. Since the late 1980s, Yanomami lands have suffered from regular invasions by illegal gold miners, who have unleashed epidemics of malaria, flu, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases.

Over 20,000 garimperos, or illegal miners, are currently devastating Yanomami lands. These invaders, who are nearly as numerous as the Yanomami themselves (current population 26,780), are most likely responsible for introducing the coronavirus to the region. Even amid the pandemic, illegal mining operations have continued to expand. More generally, rainforest destruction throughout the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated.

When the exhibition opened, in January 2020, we were not aware of what was going to happen, though pandemia was really close in terms of time. Today, this exhibition is to be reexamined in a new light and raises a question: what is the role of art in the present world and what role do museums and art institutions play in fulfilling the needs of the artists and the public. As usual, the answer comes from the artists themselves, as Claudia’s work shows very clearly. Like many artists today, she focuses on the urgencies of our time. The defense of the people of the forest is urgent because these people are the best for defending the forest. They know how to protect their territory better than anybody else, and without those forests we will not be able to live. Like many artists, Claudia works within a network: anthropologists, activists, scientists, and curators must all share. It is the role of the institution to create networks so that different fields of knowledge can get together.

Collective house near the Catholic mission on the Catrimani River, Roraima, infrared film, 1976, © Claudia Andujar

More than ever, the links between institutions, the circulation of ideas, the exhibitions to be seen by the most varied publics, spreading artists’ messages to the widest public with the least impact in terms of shipping and travel, are ways of working to make an institution contemporary. Listen to the artists and the ones who are part of their network: they feed their work; we need to be fed by all of them. Other exhibitions of Fondation Cartier in the past, like Trees in 2019 or The Great Animal Orchestra in 2016, focused attention on the vegetal and animal world today. Bringing together artists, scientists, botanists, anthropologists, philosophers and bio-acousticians like Bernie Krause, has revealed genuine emergencies in our world, and the voices of the artists have become precious resources. These exhibitions, some shared with Triennale Milano like The Great Animal Orchestra (2019), have shown that artists need to work in a network of knowledge that the institution can contribute to enriching and enlarging. Another example: in 2008, it was listening to the ideas of French philosopher Paul Virilio that American architects Diller Scofidio involved over thirty individuals and organizations to create the immersive installation Exit, which was part of an exhibition called Native Land. This astonishing projection gives an overview of the most contemporary reasons for migrations, mostly linked to climate change. It is part of the collection of Fondation Cartier and requires regular updating. It started with a philosopher and it ended up involving architects, geographers, statisticians, anthropologists, and many others from the fields of science and social sciences.

The Great Animal Orchestra, photo by Luc Boegly

To create links and to get people and ideas together is the role of the institution in bringing an artwork into existence. The institution is there to listen to the artists, because this will build meaning and consciousness, and this is the way an institution can be part of the contemporary world. More than ever, it is essential that institutions can work in a network and share. This is the basis of the long-term partnership between the Triennale Milano and Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain that will start in the fall and go on for many years, with the exhibition of Claudia Andujar continuing its path to Milan. Getting together for a long time in Europe now will mean mutually enlarging and enriching our networks to serve the artists and to contribute to raising consciousness in all kinds of publics, particularly the youngest, using the most suitable means and languages to reach all generations. To achieve and raise consciousness, fragile as we all feel now, should be the goal of art institutions today.


Dialogue is essential.
Sharing is necessary.

Photo by Agnès Varda

Art critic and museum curator, Grazia Quaroni is an italian art historian based in Paris since 1991, when she joins the curatorial staff of the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain in Paris and today she is Director of Collections for this institution. She collaborated for about 40 exhibition projects. She is in charge of showing the collection around the world, as Seoul, Buenos Aires, and Shanghai. Grazia Quaroni is a former Associate Professor at Sorbonne-University of Paris, being a teacher and Project Director in the Master of Curatorial training dedicated to Contemporary Art and its exhibition from 2009 to 2012. She currently teaches Curatorial Studies at Sorbonne-Abu Dhabi.

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