Artist Vik Muniz’s innovative photographs of carefully arranged garbage, chocolate, dirt, and wires can be found in contemporary art museums across the world. His use of found materials to create large-scale images is both beautiful and dizzying with its incredible detail. Hailing from Brazil, Muniz was the subject of the documentary WASTE LAND; a piece that tells the story of his installations in Rio de Janeiro’s largest garbage dump.
Muniz first creates installations, or “paints” with materials such as sugar, peanut butter or junk. He then photographs the piece, which is the final artwork. The photos at first look like portraits or collages. But at closer look, one will start to recognize elements of trash, including oil barrels, buckets, washing machines, toilet seat covers and bottles. Some of the pieces take up entire warehouse floors — something that is not evident in just looking at one of the photographs. It is not until an object is recognized in the heap of the composition that the scale becomes clear.
Muniz creates tableaus of portraits, but also recreates well known artworks, such as the Death of Marat, Medusa the Gorgon, Andy Warhol pieces and even The Last Supper. Using garbage, a bucket becomes an ear, or can make up the larger plane of an arm or hair.
Muniz’s work brings attention to our waste problem, but this is done more poignantly so in the documentary, WASTE LAND. In the documentary, the artist created several large scale pieces with the aid of catadores (scavengers of recyclables in the giant Jardim Gramacho landfill), which make up a subculture in his native Brazil. The film not only celebrates Muniz’s beautiful recycled art, but also brings awareness to ever-growing landfills, and the people who spend their days sifting through them.