© Vik Muniz/VAGA at ARS, NY/JASPAR, Tokyo 2021

Vik Muniz
Mother & Children (Suellen) (Pictures of Garbage)
2008
231.1 x 180.3 cm
digital c-print

Until just before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics of 2016, Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill in the Americas still existed in the outskirts of Rio. There were people called “catadores” who made their living by collecting and selling recyclable materials from the garbage dump. This is a portrait of a mother, Suellen, and her children who lived together there.

Born in 1961 in São Paulo, Vik Muniz heard about these people who lived in poverty at the landfill and returned to his native land of Brazil. He asked himself: How can he, as an artist, give substantial help to improve the lives of these people and make their dreams come true? Is the garbage that they are collecting every day nothing more than filthy waste to be discarded? Couldn’t he encourage them if he was able to impart a different purpose or value to these objects through art? Even under adverse working conditions, the catadores still had their own aspirations and motivations as they labored at the landfill every day. Muniz decided to ask them to be his models, and with their help, he created the seven artworks in the Pictures of Garbage series using the debris they had gathered.

The money raised through the sales of this series went towards establishing a labor union for the people living and working at the landfill, as well as a library and a nursery for the children. This piece is one of the series, and it embodies the “Power of Art.”

The documentary film, Waste Land, which follows the creation of these artworks, was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature in the 83rd Academy Awards.

(Commentary:Masashi Shiobara / Translation:Yui Kajita)