I just screened the documentary, Wasteland about Vik Muniz’s collaborative social justice work with Brazilian workers who collect recyclable materials from a landfill. Muniz’s work employs appropriation which means he takes images that already exist and he makes them his own by recreating them in relevant and unexpected materials. He has made images of the Mona Lisa out of peanut butter and jelly, a portrait of Che Guevara from canned black beans, portraits of divas constructed from diamonds, and The Last Supper painted from dribbled chocolate syrup, to name a few. Wasteland is about his collaboration with a community of workers who spend 16+ hours a day picking through one of the largest landfills in the world to collect recyclable materials that are then sold to companies to make products. Muniz first attempts to take head shots of each of the workers to use in their collaborative portraits that are to be constructed from the very materials they seek for a living. The head shots are not strong enough images so Muniz has the workers recreate scenes from classical works of art with their bodies and props found in the landfill. He then has the scenes photographed and projected so the selected garbage workers he employs to work on the project can fill in spaces with the collected recyclable materials. The final representational arrangement of materials is photographed, printed and the prints went to an auction house and galleries where they were sold to raise a quarter of a million dollars for the community. The money went towards building additional facilities such as a learning center, buying equipment, and it gave the workers who were directly involved the financial freedom and the confidence to pursue other careers. The photographs promote dialogue between this group of low income workers and the global community. Their stories are candid and deeply moving accounts of acquired poverty or middle class lives that took a turn for the worse. The artwork forever changes their lives and this is the kind of art that I write lesson plans about so I thought I’d jot some ideas down while the little one is napping.
Contemporary Art Discussion
Can art change lives?
Vik Muniz powerpoint presentation and discussion of why he chooses the images and materials to make his mixed-media artwork
Watch the documentary, Wasteland (answer active listening/discussion questions-discuss in small groups and share)
Write down a list of materials that exist in your world: what is around you in abundance? Maybe you work at a grocery store and you have access to egg crates, boxes, or other packaging materials. Maybe you live near a florist and they are always throwing away droopy roses… In class encourage students to think about what they could use and discuss the materials they want to work with. Assignment: Bring in materials to use. Discuss health and materials that are appropriate.
Be inspired, like Vik Muniz is inspired by the materials. Then find an image that already exists and appropriate that image using the materials that you have collected. Do you have enough of the materials to make it happen? Will something else work better? Project the image or print it and place it under vellum so it is easily recreated.
Individually guide the students through the process.
Photograph the completed construction.
Discuss ways these projects can help the community.
Social justice discussion/possible direction of project: The workers in Brazil have tough lives and working in the garbage is the only legal way they are able to support their families. They remain very poor and their working conditions are extremely unhealthy. What injustices exist around us? What ways could we make a difference in their lives? How can art help? Could we make a collaborative, large scale work to represent that injustice out of a powerful material?
Terms: appropriation, contemporary art, social justice, mixed-media, community, collaborate,