Of the many media available to artists, few have the power to bring the past into the present so immediately, and so viscerally, as a photo. Crossing time and space, from the depths of the Amazon rainforest in the 1970s to the grand hall of São Paulo’s Palácio dos Correios, the face of a young Indian girl has been reproduced in striking colours and on a mammoth scale – 1,200 square metres, to be precise – for the photo installation Sonho Verde Azulado (‘Blue-Green Dream’).
The girl, whose name is Paxioïmïkï, is from the Yanomami, an Amazonian tribe who live in the border region between Brazil and Venezuela. Wearing strings of beads and an inscrutable gaze, she was photographed by Claudia Andujar, a Hungarian photographer who moved to Brazil when she was 24 years old. Andujar first came into contact with Brazil’s indigenous peoples in 1958, and started photographing the Yanomami in the early 1970s, going on to spend much of her life campaigning for the protection of indigenous cultures.
For this installation in one of downtown’s grandest historic buildings, São Paulo’s old central post office, the original image of Paxioïmïkï, taken in black and white, has been remixed in shades of green and blue. It’s done using a technique in which Andujar, now 81 years of age, bathes a large reproduction of the original black-and-white photo in shades of colours, and then re-photographs it.
The resulting images will be mounted on each of the four walls of the Palácio’s mezzanine floor, in a site-specific jigsaw of symmetry in which each photo is broken down into component parts, each 25 square metres, and inlaid into the pattern of concave square panels that covers each wall.
‘The original photo, which generated this series of four images, was taken around 1974 to 1976,’ says Andajur. ‘I took it on one of my first visits to the Yanomami lands, when the indigenous still had very little contact with white people. I’ve brought in the green of the vegetation and the blue of the sky that I remember, idyllic elements of the Amazon, to give colour to the images and represent the virtues of the Indians in continuing to defend the environment.’ The image also serves, she says, to reaffirm the Yanomami’s ongoing struggle. The tribe still faces constant violent incursions into its territories by illegal goldminers and others.
‘For anyone who has followed Claudia’s career,’ says Eduardo Brandão, co-owner of São Paulo’s Galeria Vermelho and the curator of the exhibition, ‘these images show how Claudia incorporates both modernity and postmodernity in her work, and how she still has the impulse to create.’
The neoclassical Palácio dos Correios is a 1922 project by the architect Ramos de Azevedo. Originally constructed as SP’s main post and telegraph office, the stately building has had its interior gutted various times, and lay empty for many years before its latest renovation, in which it reopened as a post office in 2008. Plans have been drawn up to transform the building in its entirety into a cultural centre by 2017/2018.
On the façade of the building next to the Palácio, look out for a fifth, super-sized image taken from the same photo, in which Paxioïmïkï’s inpenetrable gaze looks out over the Vale do Anhangabaú – it’s the latest outdoor art work in the Cidade Galeria project – a São Paulo initiative which launched in 2010 to bring art out into the open, occupying public spaces.