Exhibit of Amazon Indians brings new life to rainforest campaign
By NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press Writer NEW YORK (AP)

A decade after the launch of an international campaign to preserve Brazil¹s rain forest, a young Norwegian artist has breathed new life into the effort with luminous paintings and photos of Amazon Indians. The exhibit, ³ Xingu Chronicles ³ opened this month at the Dillon Gallery in Soho and is backed by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and Rainforest Foundation International, a major international organization trying to save the Amazon. Proceeds from the show¹s book, also entitled ³ Xingu Chronicles ³after the Xingu region of northern Brazil, will go to the foundation.

The 34-year-old artist, Per Fronth, says he didn¹t set out to make political art but concedes that his Xingu work ³ became a green issue ³, because it deals with a threatened part of the world. ³ I¹m hoping that by looking at these pictures, that you get a glimpse into a culture that¹s really well -knit together, and really in contact with nature, that celebrates life in itself, ³ Fronth said in a recent interview at the gallery. ³ And on another note, that this is a people who in a way are threatened. They have a weak voice compared to the multinational companies , loggers and farmers who are cutting down the Amazon for profit, ³ he said.

The Indians whom Fronth documents live in a 12000-square-mile preserve, Xingu Park, which was established by the Rainforest Foundation and is monitored by the Brazilian government. Few of Fronth¹s work carry any overt message about protecting this part of the world, which scientists say is crucial to prevent global warming. Most of Fronth¹s pictures are simply depictions of Indians carrying out their daily activities, spinning cotton,doing a ritual dance, lightning a fire. But this is no National Geographic documentary.

By making these images into stunning pieces of art, the prize- winning artist manages to make a more subtle statement about the need to preserve traditional societies. ³ Underwatergirls ³ is inspiring in this way. Fronth photographed two Indian girls swimming under the murky waters of the Xingu river, then transferred the image onto canvas. Painted, the image of the girls swimming toward the camera becomes otherworldly, with rays of light streaming through the red chocolate Amazon mud. ³
Fronth¹s paintings begin with his photographs, and at once modernize and deepen them, ³ says Donald Kuspit, editor of Art Critics magazine. ³ Rendered in oil, ³ the work ³ becomes even more magical, mysterious and poignant, ³ he continues in a foreword to the exhibit book. Despite the highly political nature of the rain forest issue, ³ Xingu Chronicles ³ isn¹t preachy. If it were, the show could risk looking as dated as the rain forest effort now seems.

Launched by the rock musician Sting in 1989, the campaign became very much the hip cause in the late 1980s and early Œ90s, with benefits like ³ Don¹t Bungle the Jungle ³ drawing celebrities, socialites and activists. Though its work has continued and expanded to other parts of the globe, the campaign now has a lower profile. Fronth first heard about the campaign in 1989, when he covered one of Sting¹s initial news conferences in Oslo, Norway, where Fronth was a photographer for Norway¹s largest newspaper, Verdens Gang. It was with that paper that he won an Amnesty International Award for his photographs on refugees from the Iran-Iraq war.In 1992, Fronth covered an environmental summit in Brazil and made his first trip into the rain forest. He went to the Xingu Park four years later.

In addition to its subdued political message, what makes Fronth¹s work original is that it doesn¹t seem to idealize Indians through their traditional past. In fact, Front celebrates technology as a necessary part of life in the Amazon. In several of his works, Fronth explores the effects of a project under way in Xingu Park that is teaching Indians filmmaking and other video techniques as a means to preserve their culture and teach other about it. Fronth calls the cameras the tribes¹ ³weapons ³ for self-preservation. ³ You cannot put culture in a can, ³ Fronth said. ³ Culture means what it is: cultivate. So it will always be in transition from one generation to the next. ³ ³ Panasonic ³ a photo of an Indian elder who is holding a video camera to his eye and standing in front of a carved-out wooden boat, is the standout image of the show. ³ At the end of the century, it becomes an image of all of us, ³ Fronth says of the ³ Panasonic ³ juxtaposition.

Fronth is very much looking forward to the next century. His next project is a study of NASA and space flight. The leap from Xingu isn¹t as big as one might think. ³ What I try to address is some basic aspect of life, ³ Fronth says. ³ Like where you come from and where you¹re going. ³