By Claire Milano
The catadores, like the garbage they picked, were forgotten; thrown away to be ignored and accumulate piles and piles of dirty gold.
That is until Vik Muniz came to them. Muniz, an artist from Brazil living in Brooklyn, New York, recreates artwork using different mediums. What separates him from others in his line of work are the mediums he uses. Instead of using traditional mediums, Muniz uses food, garbage and minerals to recreate masterpieces.
“I want to be able to change the lives of a group of people with the same materials they use every day,” Muniz said about his life philosophy.
“Wasteland,” directed by Lucy Walker, features the work of Muniz as he travels back to his roots to photograph the catadores (Portuguese for “pickers”) of the world’s largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I’ve seen people make all kinds of art out of trash. It captures people’s attention. I think it’s interesting to see how [Muniz] solves the issue [of excess waste],” freshman Jessica Cartmell said. Cartmell and her friend Mekenzie Altman came to watch “Wasteland” because they care about environmentalism.
The film, shot over the course of three years, followed the lives of seven catadores and shows audience members how they had been impacted by their lifestyle and the job they performed. The catadores would sift through the piles of garbage to find recyclables to trade for money. Muniz decided to raise awareness for the catadores and the amount of garbage they picked by taking their picture and recreating it from garbage found at Gramacho.
“Wasteland,” contrary to the filth it featured, was an absolutely beautiful piece. Even though there were piles upon piles of garbage, enough to make a member of Muniz’s team call it “a city of garbage,” the community shined through the muck and grime.
Each catador had a purpose. Each bonded through the garbage they picked. Their bond was so strong that a family was created. The catadores worked together, side-by-side, smiling through it all. It was a community made in a foundation of filth.
“The pickers united we will never be defeated,” a crowd chanted in a protest to raise awareness for the pickers.
The catadores were undesirable to members of the higher class. Therefore, they were ignored and forgotten by society. Yet, they were proud of what they did. They considered it honest work, and some women preferred to pick through endless piles of garbage instead of selling their bodies for sex work.
“It’s easy for you to sit at home and consume what you want, then stick it in the street for the garbage truck to take away. But where then does that garbage go?” Magna de França Santos, one of the catadores Muniz photographed, said. Each photograph not only gained worldwide fame, but the artwork completely changed the lives of the featured catadores. Some were able to fulfill their dreams of a better life. Although Jardim Gramacho shut down in 2012, each catador remembers where it brought them, and what it taught them.
The viewing of “Wasteland” was sponsored by the Ohio University Office of Sustainability. It was a special event shown for pollution prevention week.