Art Mouse at the Movies: Waste Land (2011)

I’m not much of a fan of mixed media art, but when I saw the art of Vik Muniz, I was instantly in love with his work.

It’s probably because his work reminds me of what Neil Buchanan does in Art Attack.

Did he teach you how to make papier-mâché too? 😉

Vik Muniz is Brazil’s most prominent living modern artist. He started his career as a photographer but went on to explore making pictures out of  different things, from diamonds to trash, paper to pigments, toys to thread, syrup to spaghetti noodles, and many more. Two of my favorites are:

Audrey Hepburn from the Diamond series and Dracula from the Caviar Monsters series

And when I went to San Francisco last year, I got to visit the Rena Bransten Gallery who represents Muniz in the West Coast. I got to see two of his works there:

Plum Blossom Viewing at Night, after Harunobu, 2010 (from the Pictures of Paper series)

Diana and Endymion (detail), 2007 (from the Pictures of Junk series)

I naively thought I’d see the actual assembly of his works in the gallery. The curator told me that the products of Muniz’s works are the photos themselves. *facepalm*

I was ecstatic to find out that the Oscar-nominated documentary Waste Land is about him. Directed by Lucy Walker, it follows Muniz as he goes back to his hometown and immerses himself in the forgotten wasteland that is Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill. The film also gives us a peek at how Muniz makes his masterpieces in his studio.

Yes, Y2, you’ll only see the photos of the finished work in museums

70% of Rio de Janeiro’s garbage is dumped here, and pickers — called catadores — rummage through the tons of trash to look for recyclable materials they can sell. Muniz gets to know these catadores over the three years he and his team are there, and he digs up compelling stories from and about them.

One such character is Tiaõ. He found Machiavelli’s book The Prince in the trash one day, slightly damp but still readable. He brought it home instead of recycling it, dried it behind his fridge,and started reading. One day, when they were in Jardim Gramacho and found a lone bathtub in the pile, he recreated the cover of the book he found for Vik. And that’s what we see on the film’s poster.

Valter, one of the more senior pickers, says something to Vik (well, to the camera) that struck me as well:

“It’s bad to be rich at the height of fame with your morals a dirty shame.”


The highlights of the movie for me were whenever Vik talked about modern art; it was like he was talking to me and answering my questions and reservations about it. It was truly amazing to watch how Muniz was able to talk about art — always perceived to be a highbrow and elitist subject — to these trash pickers. Not only that, they were able to understand, appreciate, and see the art that exists even around them because of Vik.

I don’t want to spoil any more about the documentary, but it’s wonderfully intimate, well-paced, and gives great insight about modern art that can be appreciated by art lovers and skeptics alike. Thanks to Vik’s art-driven advocacy, the pickers of Jardim Gramacho were given an opportunity to improve their living and working conditions. Through this film, Muniz and Walker were able to do the same thing these catadores do everyday — salvage and make use of something the rest of society has chosen to neglect. 

Photo of Neil Buchanan from this site. Muniz portraits of Hepburn and Dracula are from the Galerie Xippas website. Plum Blossom… and  Diana and Endymion photos are from the Rena Bransten Gallery website. All Waste Land stills and photos come from the movie’s official website.

3 thoughts on “Art Mouse at the Movies: Waste Land (2011)

  1. Pingback: Cacnio x LEGO: Inspire | The Philippine Art Mouse

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