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Art and Relation | Vik Muniz: “Waste Land”

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There aren’t many transformations bigger than a piece of garbage into a piece of art” | Vik Muniz


Vik Muniz is a Brazilian artist and photographer. Born is one of the poor neighbourhoods of Sao Paolo, he raised himself from poverty thanks to a an art school scholarship. In the 1980s, after moving to New York, he began his artistic career as a sculptor, and later became interested in photography.

The documentary Waste Land, Lixo Extraordinàrio (extraordinary garbage) in Portuguese, follows the artist from his studio in Brooklyn to his native Brazil, to the Jardim Gramacho, a dump site (closed in 2012) that was situated on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

vik muniz

Vik Muniz


The documentary, nominated for an oscar in 2010 and directed by Lucy Walker, follows the development of a series of photographic portraits made with garbage. The series of photos, Pictures of Garbage, was created by Muniz with the help of the catadores from the landfill. Initially Muniz had set out with the idea of “painting” the catadores using the garbage, but once he met these varying and interesting personalities, he decided to collaborate with them on this project.

Muniz photographed some of the most interesting personalities on the landfill and later, with their help, he recreated their portraits using the trash that surrounded them – revealing both the dignity and despair of these people. Muniz turns each of them into a classic portrait: Sulem, teen-mom who has lived on the landfill since she was 7 years old, becomes a Renaissance Madonna; Zumbi, the intellectual who saves all the books he finds in the landfill and creates a small library in his shack, becomes the “Sower” by Millet; and Tião, who has been working on the landfill since he was 11 years old, becomes Marat by David.

According the Muniz the landfill is the only place in Rio de Janeiro where the extremes of society meet: where the garbage of the rich neighbourhoods mixes with the garbage from the poor neighbourhoods.

vik muniz

Vik Muniz, Pictures of Garbage


Garbage is a matter of opinion, tread carefully because you are treading on money” | Catadores


The proceeds from the sale of the art work, as well as from the awards the documentary won, were donated to the catadores and their cooperative to help improve their living conditions. In addition, the documentary helped in lift the stigma associated with these people, showing how art, it all its various forms, can help change the world and how we see it. Muniz, who now lives between Rio de Janeiro and New York, continues to work on similar projects. In 2016 he built and opened a school (Escola Vidigal) in one of Rio’s favelas that offers free art lessons for children in the area, in the hope that this will improve their lives.

vik muniz

Vik Muniz, Pictures of Garbage


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Translated by Ludovica Sarti

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