Ocean Lu 5 Waste Land and Ai Weiwei Reflection Essay Vik Muniz uses art to draw attention to societal ills by employing artists who come from impoverished backgrounds and by featuring them in the artwork itself. All of the people who are featured in his artwork come from Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. They work as garbage “pickers,” picking certain recyclable materials out of the landfill to sell to wholesalers and middlemen that convert the materials to usable items. The pickers earn $20-25 USD a day. Six of them are invited to work with Vik Muniz, and they pose as photographic subjects that mimic classic paintings. I really like Muniz’s purpose of “giving back” to the community by giving all money resulting from sales of the art to the pickers’ association to benefit the workers. Generally, I do agree with the way he utilizes art to promote social reform; I do not feel that the pickers were exploited because they freely chose to participate, received money as compensation, and seemed
This Oscar-nominated documentary by Lucy Walker is about the Brazilian artist and photographer Vik Muniz and his work with the "pickers", or catadores, who eke out an existence scavenging scraps from Rio's colossal city garbage dump. The title avowedly refers to TS Eliot's poem, but what Walker thinks she's showing us in her handful of dust is not fear, but life-affirming hope. Some might find the movie's take-home optimism naive and Muniz's attitude itself open to question. But this is undoubtedly a bold raid into an unknown territory – both geographic and conceptual – that the prosperous classes prefer not to think about.
When we throw out rubbish, it is easy to assume that it somehow vanishes. In fact, of course, it largely goes to landfill sites such as Jardim Gramacho in Rio De Janeiro: the world's biggest dump, a huge, undulating, foul-smelling, seagull-covered landscape of garbage which is home to about 3,000 people, who work all day picking out material that can be sold on to commercial recycling companies. Uneaten food found there is gratefully consumed. Walker follows Muniz as he works on a project creating portraits of the pickers, using the materials from this site, which will be sold at auction, with the profits going to the pickers themselves, or rather their representative campaigning group.
Inevitably, the pickers are always finding dead bodies. One 18-year-old woman, Suelem Pereira Dias, calmly recounts finding a dead baby in the rubbish and says: "I immediately thought of my own kids." She has two, and the remarkable portrait Muniz creates of her with these children may have been inspired by Arshile Gorky's The Artist and His Mother.
Is it exploitative? Very possibly, yes. One picker has a free trip to London for the auction and the featured pickers get to come to a champagne opening in Rio, and are encouraged to believe that they are "famous all over the world". But do they just go back to the dump? Won't this mess them up? And are these people being treated as human rubbish to be recycled into collectable art for rich people? Muniz's answer to all this is quite simple: it's inspiring and empowering for them and anyway, nothing could be worse than their current existence. Maybe that's true. I suspect, however, that smiley Muniz has an artist's ruthlessness, something like the splinter of ice in his heart that Graham Greene talked about. And perhaps this story isn't over. If Waste Land wins an Oscar, the pickers may be besieged by no-win-no-fee lawyers persuading them they should sue for a share of the movie profits. At any rate, Muniz's intervention in their lives is a compelling spectacle.