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The Falling Sky

April 1 - May 27, 2022

Trinity Square Video, co-presented in partnership with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival



In The Falling Sky, 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 ritual burning of the dwelling, 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.

Artist & Curator Biographies

Claudia Andujar (b. 1931, Neuchatel, Switzerland) is a Swiss-Brazilian photographer whose practice from the 1970s has centered the sovereignty and culture of the Yanomami people. In 2008, she was honored by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture with an Order of Cultural Merit. The artist lives and works in São Paulo.

Gisela Motta (b. 1976, São Paulo, Brazil) and Leandro Lima (b. 1976, São Paulo, Brazil) began their collaboration in 1997. Their work has been presented in group and solo exhibitions internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro; LAXART, Los Angeles; Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, UT; the New Museum, New York, Guangzhou Image Triennial, China; Bienal Sur, Buenos Aires; International Festival of Contemporary Art SESC_Videobrasil, São Paulo, among others. The artists live and work in São Paulo.

AXIS is a socially-engaged curatorial collaborative composed of Noor Alé and Claudia Mattos. Noor Alé is a curator, art historian, and writer. She is the Associate Curator at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto. She has served in curatorial capacities at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington, Bowmanville; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Claudia Mattos is a curator, writer, and art historian based in Miami, FL. She has contributed to exhibitions, curatorial research and writing at The Baltimore Museum of Art; The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Performa, New York, and others.

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