"Waste Land" images by Photographer/Artist ~ Vik Muniz

Drawing its title from T.S. Eliot’s signature poem (“… what branches grow out of this stony rubbish…”), WASTE LAND follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of "catadores," self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. Muniz's initial objective was to "paint" the catadores’ portraits with garbage. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both their dignity and despair as they begin to re-imagine their lives.

An estimated 3,000-5,000 people live in the Jardim Gramacho, 15,000 derive their income from activities related to it, and some that Muniz met come from families that had been working there for three generations. Catadores, like the trash heaps they call home, are shunned to the margins of society and made invisible to the average Brazilian.

“These people are at the other end of consumer culture,” said Muniz. “I was expecting to see people who were beaten and broken, but they were survivors.”

Muniz quickly befriended and collaborated with a number of catadores on large-scale portraits of themselves including Irma, a cook who sells food in the dump; Zumbi, the resident intellectual who has held onto every book he’s scavenged; and 18-year-old Suelem, who first arrived there when she was 7. Calling upon his resources as a world famous artist, Muniz raised more than $64,000 at the esteemed Phillips de Pury auction house in London by selling one of his garbage portraits. 100% of the profits went to the Garbage Pickers Association of Jardim Gramacho.

“I’m at this point in my career where I’m trying to step away from the realm of fine arts, because I think it’s a very exclusive, very restrictive place to be. What I want to be able to do is to change the lives of people with the same materials they deal with every day.” “I grew up poor,” Mr. Muniz says. “Now I’ve reached the point where I want to give back.”

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