Claudia Andujar, Gisela Motta & Leandro Lima The Falling Sky
In this exhibition, Brazilian artists Leandro Lima and Gisela Motta adapt a black-and-white photograph of a burned maloca—a lodging of the Yanomami peoples of the Amazon—into YANO-A, an installation that renders the illusion that this image is itself set ablaze. Awash in red light, the burning image contrasts the Yanomami’s use of fire with forest fires that spread in the Amazon as a result of deforestation and land encroachment.
Originally taken in the Catrimani River region in 1976 by Swiss-Brazilian photographer Claudia Andujar—whose humanitarian practice advocates for the Yanomami’s sovereignty—this photograph is part of a larger series of images that captures the dwelling’s ritual burning, a practice that marks periods of change and rebirth. Motta and Lima activate the photograph through both digital and analogue techniques, creating what appears to be a moving animation. This installation exists at the intersection of still and moving images. The original image is mediated through layers of effects: a transparency of the photograph is placed on an overhead projector, over which rests a shallow basin of water that undulates as a small fan blows across its surface. The projected image we see—red, seeming to ripple—mimics the refraction of heat and fire. A digital animation of flames compiled from the series of photographs Andujar took of this burning hut is projected over the analogue illusion. The resulting image appears to have flames dancing across its surface, situating the viewer at the site of the burning maloca where Andujar once stood.
The maloca is a multi-family dwelling designed around fire’s essential role within Yanomami society. Built as a ring with walled-off sides, its open-air centre allows for fire—for cooking, warmth, and rituals—at the heart of the structure. A vital element of Yanomami life and survival, fire is also a force of spiritual cleansing, renewal, and punishment. Ceremonial cremations upon death release the souls of deceased Yanomami from their physical bodies, the rising smoke guiding them up toward the spirit plane. The burning of malocas in times of migration or disease marks new chapters of renewal through the consumptive force of fire. In Yanomami cosmonogy, shopari wakë is the celestial world’s eternal fire, where the greedy burn after death.
In conflict with the cultural significance of burning in Yanomami culture, fires set in the forests of the Amazon similarly signal the destructive and extractive forces of widespread deforestation at the hands of commercial cattle farming, industrial logging, illegal mining, and other industries. Deforestation exploits the natural resources of these lands and puts in jeopardy—and often brings violence to—the Yanomami and their way of life. The fire pictured in YANO-A becomes a dual symbol of life and its destruction at various scales, as both a tool of basic survival and as one of profit and capitalism. The title of this exhibition, The Falling Sky, is borrowed from the English-language translation of the same-titled book originally published in 2010 by Yanomami shaman and spokesman Davi Kopenawa, in which he expounds the sharp contrasts between his endangered people’s values and those of Western industrial society. In recent years, Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro has weakened the country’s environmental protections of the Amazon in the name of what he alleges to be economic advancement. These practices, however, have disproportionately impacted Brazil’s Indigenous peoples and their lands. This exhibition prompts urgent dialogues about extractivism, environmental devastation, and encroachment into Indigenous territories—issues that are globally endemic.
Curated by Noor Alé and Claudia Mattos (AXIS Curatorial)
Presented in partnership with Trinity Square Video
Claudia Andujar is a Swiss-Brazilian photographer and human rights activist who is among the most significant artists working in documentary photography in South America. Since the 1970s she has produced more than 60,000 photographs in her efforts advocating for the rights of the Yanomami, Brazil’s largest Indigenous population. Andujar’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; and Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt. She has participated in group exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro; and The Third Beijing Photo Biennial.
Gisela Motta and Leandro Lima began their collaboration in 1997. Their work has been presented in group and solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro; Ema Gordon Klabin Cultural Foundation, São Paulo; Brazilian Museum of Sculpture and Ecology, São Paulo; Museum of History, Nantes, France; National Museum of Arts, La Paz, Bolivia; Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro; LAXART, Los Angeles; Galeria Vermelho, São Paulo; British Cultural Center, São Paulo; Helsinki International Artist Programme Project Room, Helsinki; Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, UT; Aloisio Magalhães Museum of Modern Art, Recife, Brazil; and the New Museum, New York, among others. They have participated in international biennials and festivals including Beijing Photo Biennial, China; Guangzhou Image Triennial, China; Bienal Sur, Buenos Aires; and the International Festival of Contemporary Art SESC_Videobrasil, São Paulo, among others.