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Exhibition provides extensive insights into the photographic oeuvre of Claudia Andujar
Exhibition view MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main 2017, Courtesy Claudia Andujar and Galeria Vermelho, São Paulo, Brazil.

FRANKFURT.- The exhibition “Claudia Andujar. Tomorrow must not be like yesterday” is the first in Europe to provide extensive insights into the photographic œuvre of Claudia Andujar (b. in Neuchâtel, Switzerland in 1931). The artist and activist has lived in São Paulo since 1955. When she arrived there, she hadn’t learned Portuguese yet, but the camera offered her a means of communicating – through images instead of language. Since that time, Andujar’s photographic praxis has been closely linked with recent Brazilian history and the country’s contrasts and conflicts.

Andujar initially worked as a photographer for various Brazilian and American magazines. In 1971, her travels took her to the Yanomami, the largest indigenous ethnic group in the Amazon region. From then on she dedicated herself to the protection of the Yanomami, who are threatened by the invasion of their living environment. In the early 1980s, she produced the series that is still her most important today – “Marcados” (Marked) –, likewise in the context of her activist engagement. “Andujar’s photographic series are the result of her journeys between the metropolis of São Paulo in the south and the Amazon region in the north. They create a panorama of Brazil between city and nature. Artistic praxis and activist involvement are inseparably linked in these images”, comments Peter Gorschlüter, deputy director of the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, about the show.

Andujar lived with the Yanomami herself for several years, and in 1978 joined Bruce Albert and Carlo Zacquini in founding the “Comissão pela Criação do Parque Yanomami” (meanwhile called “Comissão Pró-Yanomami”) in defence of the Yanomami and their living environment. In the early 1980s, the commission initiated a vaccination campaign for which Andujar took photographic portraits of the Yanomami in various villages in the Amazon region. As the Yanomami traditionally don’t use names – they address one another by way of family relations – they were given necklaces with numbers as a means of identification on their vaccination records. It was only twenty years later, in 2006, that Andujar first showed the photographs at the São Paulo Biennale, and entitled them “Marcados”. These portraits of people marked with numbers trigger historical memories intimately linked with the photographer’s own biography. Whereas she and her mother could escape the Holocaust, all of her Jewish relatives on her father’s side were murdered in the Nazi concentration camp. As Claudia Andujar herself explained: “These were the marcados para morrer [marked to die]. What I was trying to do with the Yanomami was to mark them to live, to survive.

Since that time, Andujar’s œuvre has attracted a great deal of attention in the South American context. To this day, it is distinguished by its topicality and explosive force, not least of all in view of the ongoing invasion of the Yanomami territory by illegal goldminers “garimpeiros”, protests in Brazil and the climate objectives its government recently announced. In view of recurring political events and societal developments in the country, the exhibition title “Tomorrow must not be like yesterday” mirrors Claudia Andujar’s message to the present.

In various works, the photographer conveys an image of Brazil as a country rich in contrasts. “Again and again, the various living environments virtually converse with one another in Andujar’s photographic series. Taken from a helicopter, “Metrópole” shows São Paulo’s modernist street network, “Urihi-a” a shapono, the round structure that serves the Yanomami as housing, surrounded by nature, and the “Cemitério da Consolação” a cemetery founded in São Paulo at the end of the nineteenth century with a network of paths laid out around a mausoleum at the centre. The city streets, the nature and the cemetery paths all share a quality of endlessness”, observes Carolin Köchling, the exhibition’s curator.

Not only the photographic subject – whether person or object – inscribe themselves in Andujar’s works, but also always the position of the photographer herself as the subject’s vis-à-vis. To shoot the “Rua Direita” series (1970), for example, Andujar sat down on the crowded street of the same name in São Paulo and photographed the passers-by at an extreme angle from below. Though they look almost posed in the photographs, the people’s startled, aloof or curious expressions actually mirror their spontaneous reactions to the unexpected encounter with the photographer. In the “Através do Fusca” series, on the other hand, the windows of a VW beetle embody this inscription of Andujar’s position so characteristic of her œuvre: in 1976, she photographed a journey from São Paulo to the Amazon region through the car windows.

In the exhibition at the MMK, a selection of Andujar’s works are presented on Cavaletes – display stands made of concrete blocks and sheets of glass, invented by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi in 1968 for the MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo) in São Paulo, a museum building likewise of her design. This presentation form underscores the dialogical character of Andujar’s photographs, which encounter the viewer at eye level.

In addition to Andujar’s photographic works, the show presents original drawings by the Yanomami produced in the context of a project she initiated in 1976 and published in a book entitled “Mitopoemas Yãnomam” (Mythical Poems of the Yanomami). The book likewise creates a dialogue, now between the poems and drawings of the Yanomami and Andujar’s photographs.

Photography has played a prominent role in the collection and exhibition programme of the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main since it opened in 1991. The museum’s holdings meanwhile encompass over 2,500 photographic works by more than 80 artists. Rather than distinguishing strictly between documentary photography and the artistic use of the medium, MMK has instead always sought their affinities with regard to form and content alike – the qualities that account for the expressive force of a work of photography. Particularly those photographs taken in a photojournalistic context represented an early means of reflecting on social and societal realities – regardless of national borders or classification in the context of contemporary art. The photography medium introduced a subjective artistic outlook on globality that today pervades many areas of the MMK and has played an essential role in shaping its international orientation. Here the main focus is on those approaches that, within their global perspective, link history with the present and the European with the non-European. Claudia Andujar’s life and work exemplify this development and this position on content.

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