Brazilian artist Vik Muniz says he really wants to change the lives of a group of people from Rio Janeiro using the same materials they deal with every day. With his latest grandiose art installation, beautifully depicted in Lucy Walker’s documentary Waste Land, Muniz most definitely accomplished his mission. Waste Land weeds through heaps of garbage and eventually comes up roses through the work of the impassioned Muniz.

The onceimpoverished youth in Sao Paulo was now determined to create a ground-shaking art piece that would do more than sell for a few hundred thousand dollars. Forming a creative bond and friendship with a small group of garbage-pickers, or Catadores – among them a collective leader, a bookworm, a cook, an eighteenyear-old mother – Muniz creates gigantic portraits of each of them by shaping mounds of refuse into breathtaking contours and dustings of dirt.

With the helping hands of the pickers, immaculate compositions are produced using rubbish plucked from the very mounds through which they sift. In reality, the portraits in Jardim Gramacho transform trash into high-end contemporary art. But the lives of his subjects and collaborators are changed significantly, not only through the money Muniz grosses, which he wholesomely donates to the landfill to improve workers’ conditions, but through the workers’ direct involvement in creating something fartherreaching than their daily labor. Director Lucy Walker’s exterior portrait of the artist Vik Muniz and his subjects can be attributed to Marxist theories about estranged labor, where the laborer himself becomes a servant of his object – the goods produced. The garbage-pickers witnessed in Waste Land are the doers of forced labor, thus they must work without the satisfaction of a need – the work is merely a means to satisfy needs that are external to it. The worker, too, sinks to the level of a commodity and the work itself is external to the worker – it does not belong to his intrinsic nature. “This isn’t a future,” says one exhausted picker.

Waste Land, Muniz

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