At the end of the 1970s, Lothar Baumgarten was living among the Yãnomãmi of the upper Orinoco, in the forests of the watershed between Venezuela and Brazil. For 18 months he shared day-to-day life with the Indians from Kashorawë and Yapitawë-theri, two Yãnomãmi communities which had become too small to defend themselves against their increasingly aggressive neighbours. Baumgarten came into contact with these semi-nomadic groups after they had moved closer to the Orinoco and together began to build their large Shapono and lay out extensive plantations. He accompanied this group of 84 Yãnomãmi, a hunting and gathering tribe, during their daily activities: visiting other Shapono for festive rituals, time-consuming maintenance of their political alliances, boat building, something they had only recently learned, the daily rituals of the shamans and revenge attacks against old and new neighbours. Through a latent development of trade among the Yãnomãmi, very soon the need developed for a give and take that Baumgarten included in his collection – shown in part here for the first time – from the first objects to extensive portfolios. The ethnological objects he received in exchange for other objects while there and an unexpectedly extensive amount of drawings of Yãnomãmi on paper, as well as extensive audio and video documentation are accompanied in this presentation by photographic sequences which make tangible the intense closeness of the unknown he lived through. We see no purchased or staged photos, but rather the immediacy of the intimate because, in spite of all strangeness, human contact is obviously part of their nature.
The exhibition speaks of an outreach, of meeting and exchange in a period only thirty years ago. It tries to provide an image of a society whose sensitivities and existence depends on our understanding of its imperatives.
This exception donation by the Baumgarten/Sugai collection to the Museum Folkwang Foundation in 2010 graphically opens and continues a dialogue, begun by Karl Ernst Osthaus, the museum’s founder, between ancient and non-European art through its coherence and range as well as in its artistic and art historical appraisal.