I struggle between two directions – first, to make art that stirs the viewer, that makes them see the beauty that is already around them. Second, to change how we see each other, to change the horror and injustice in the world. This week, I wanted to share the work of an artist who seems to do both.
Lucy Walker’s 2010 documentary, “Wasteland,” follows Vik Muniz, Brazilian artist living and working in New York, in his project to work with the recyclable materials pickers at the Jardin Gramacho landfill. The pickers spend their days finding recyclable materials out of the garbage at the dump and hauling it in barrels to pickup trucks, which take the materials to be sold to wholesalers. They live in crowded, improvised favelas in the shadow of the largest landfill on the planet outside Rio de Janiero. His work was to make portraits of the pickers out of garbage, with their help to assemble all the materials and place the items in the final work, and then to sell the work at auction to support the pickers’ union.
Watching the film (available on Netflix, doncha know), I was struck by both how simple it is to create positive change, yet how important it is to unwind the tangled threads of the ethical, artistic, and financial aspects of the project and its participants. “Wasteland” is well worth a watch for all of us working in the arts, it’s a beautifully told story about a collaborative approach to making art and making change.