AS RARE AS once in many centuries, a great piece of art shows up, and not another word shall be uttered. The notion of autoteles, from the Greek, mandates that such a masterstroke is “complete in itself”, a universal concept that spawns higher understanding amongst even the weakest in society.

Enter Vik Muniz. Visual artist, humanitarian and inspiration, Muniz began his career as a sculptor in the late 1980s. In 2010, the documentary film Waste Land, directed by Lucy Walker, featured Muniz’s work on one of the world’s largest garbage dumps, Jardim Gramacho, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 83rd Academy Awards.

Celebrating his art, ASIAN Geographic presents Muniz’s Waste Land series with the hope to inspire. The subjects of his recyclable oeuvre personify the garbage collectors – or catedores – and their endless toil, while, in its entirety, also chronicling an existence that is uncertain, yet dazzling.

“I want to make portraits of the garbage pickers and then sell them. All the money from the sale of the portraits will be given back to you all,” Muniz declares to his newly transformed art assistants.

If art empathises completely with the human condition, then the concept of Waste Land can be seen as the paragon of unfailing social consciousness. Above everything else material, it has gifted the community with an eye for aesthetic appreciation, as well as a self-reflective artistic process. AG

* All seven portraits were made out of recyclable material collected in the Jardim Gramacho landfill by pickers such as the ones Vik portrayed in the Pictures of Garbage series. Suellen, Carlão, Sebastião, Irmã, Magna, Zumbi and Isis also helped in the making of the artworks, done in Vik’s studio in Rio de Janeiro. All the works were done in approximately three months, but it took three years for the concept to develop into the final portraits. The entire process is very well documented in the documentary Waste Land. All the works in the series are sold out. A portfolio with all the seven images was produced by Vik’s New York Gallery, Sikkema, Jenkins & Co.