In 2006, Muniz started the Centro Espacial Vik Muniz, an art education project involving four hundred students each year from two hundred favelas in Rio de Janeiro – described by Muniz as St.Tropez surrounded by Mogadishu – embedded within the Galpão Aplauso school, which specialises in theatre arts.
Some of the students began working in Muniz’s Rio studio on The Pictures of Junk, 2008, a long-term collaboration with the residents of Jardim Gramacho, Rio de Janeiro’s and Latin America’s largest rubbish tip. Muniz’s environmental project assembles large-scale arrangements of garbage, that when viewed from above, resemble the famous works of Old Masters, and portraits of the catadores who live and work on site collecting and selling recyclable and scrap materials. With the help of the catadores, who are paid for scavenging selecting and organizing the refuse material, Muniz creates images of Old Master paintings using buckets, fridges, clothes, plastic bottles, toilet seats. wheels and rusted chains and other junk to make versions of Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son; Caravaggio, Narcissus; David, The Death of Marat; Millet, The Sower; Picasso, Women Ironing, and Guercino, Atlas. Tião Santos, president of the ACAMJG (Associação dos catadores do taerro Metropolitano do Jardim Gramacho / workers’ cooperative Association of Collectors of the Metropolitan Landfill of Jardim Gramacho, is the model for Marat in David’s painting; Zumbi Muniz, who educated himself by reading discarded books becomes Millet’s Sower; Suellem, a teenage mother, poses with her two children as a Renaissance Madonna. Muniz directs the installation on the floor of his studio below using a laser pointer. These are then photographed and printed in a series of seven images, each produced in two different formats, with 50% of the sales of the larger prints benefitting the Garbage Pickers Association in Jardim Gramacho.
Jardim Gramacho is a metropolitan landfill established in 1970 and sited at the north edge of Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. It receives 7,000 tons of garbage daily, taking 70% of the urban waste produced by Rio de Janeiro. It is home to the favela of Jardim Gramacho and the catadores, a permanent community engaged in the peripheral economy of recycling 200 tons of materials each day – surrounding the landfill with 5,000 workers and their families in a population totaling c.13,000 people. The activity of the catador was formalized in 1995 with 1,752 officially registered workers granted licenses by Rio’s sanitation department and safety standards including the banning of child workers.
Vik Muniz, is a Brazilian artist, born in São Paulo, 1961, who lives and works in New York and Rio de Janeiro. His work appropriates images of old master and works by other artists interpreted with different mediums including chocolate and food materials, and urban waste in the Pictures of Junk series.
Waste Land, 2010 is a documentary film , directed by Lucy Walker, featured Muniz’s project at Jardim Gramacho,
Images: Vik Muniz – Pictures of Junk: 1. View down onto Irmã’s portrait on the floor; 2. Narcissus; 3. Marat (Sebastião), 2008; 4.The Gypsy Magna; 5. Sepia Jardim Gramacho landscape with vultures. Photographs by Vik Muniz, courtesy of Vik Muniz Studio