VIK MUNIZ: Wasteland

Artist Feature, vol. 3

If you haven’t yet heard, this Brazilian native turned world-renowned visual artist went to one of the largest dumpsters in the world (Jardim Gramacho outside of Rio de Janeiro) to create portraits of the “catadores”. The catadores are the individuals who work at the site separating recyclable materials from general waste. This 2011 Oscar nominated documentary entitled “Wasteland” shows Vik and his colleagues throughout the course of a year getting to know each of these characters and their lives as he develops an “image” for the project.

He decides to depict each of them in a series called “Pictures of Garbage” through iconic images of art history such as Jacques-Louis David’s 1793 “The Death of Marat” for Marat (Sebastiao), Pablo Picasso’s 1904 “Woman Ironing” for “Woman Ironing (Isis)” and Atlas, the Titan who held up the world for “Atlas (Carla0)”. This remaking of iconic images has of course been done before. Vik’s originality here lies, as in most of his work, in his choice of medium and context. He photographs these images then projects them from say 40 feet in the air down to the ground. He and the catadores then arrange hundreds of objects found in the landfill to recreate the image out of pure waste. This final sculptural piece is photographed and becomes the final image.

The work is thought provoking and inspiring as his process changes the way we think art is created and achieved. But truly the most impactful aspect of the documentary is the dignity and relentless spirit of the catadores Vik encounters and how this inspires his work and allows for a victorious finale that brings hope and change to the desolate circumstances of life in Jardim Gramacho and to the dreamers, like me, who dream of a better world.

from “Pictures of Garbage” 2008
“Saturn Devouring His Son” 2005
Mona Lisa, Peanut Butter and Jelly
from “The Sugar Children Series”, 1996
from “Pictures of Clouds”
from “Pictures of People”, 2009
“Marylin” 2008
from “Pictures of Earthwork” 2005


  1. richard jackson

    WASTELAND (the project, film) is beyond any words that depict my feelings. Thank you for having the courage to take on such a project, and the discipline, fortitude,love and patience to see it through. You have helped more people than you could ever realize…Myself included.
    Thank you


    1. rlbastos

      Richard, I completely agree. I was humbled and inspired by Muniz and his amazing documentary. I was in total awe at the joy and honor with which the catadores live though their circumstances in life are so difficult. Immediately after leaving the cinema I was completely silent as I took a long moment to feel gratitude for all that I have and to seriously ponder how to give back. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


  2. Vik Muniz is an a modern day alchemist who brings out the gold from the base substance of garbage and from the forgotten sector of humanity, the catadores, one of the most forgotten and hidden sector of humanity, an art form that is the distilled gold of modern art. His project was not a clinical work of art, but a humanitarian act of love, where the art was not divorced from the lives, trials and tribulations of the catadores themselves. In the documentary Wasteland, this alchemist once again is seen to gradually transform these remarkable people in a way that would have not been possible by an other humanitarian act of changing them by providing money and material goods. This highly technical form of combining technology with humanity and writing a narrative drama is unique to Muniz.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rlbastos

      So true and beautifully placed. Thank you for commenting!


  3. […] VIK MUNIZ & Wasteland В« t r a c e Feb 6, 2011 … from "Pictures of Clouds". from "Pictures of People", 2009. "Marylin" 2008. from "Pictures of Earthwork" 2005. Vik Muniz. Share this: … 4 Responses to “VIK MUNIZ & Wasteland” … […]


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