One Man's Trash, Another Man's Medium.

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABRIAN, ANDREW.FABIAN@SRQME.COM SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY JAN 3, 2020

The new Sarasota Museum of Art can be difficult to describe. It’s eclectic yet organized, playful yet serious, historic yet modern, a figurative playground for adults and a literal playground for children. And on the second floor of the museum is an exhibition of work from an artist that captures the magic of another paradox: trash and beauty. 

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, best known for his use of rubbish to create striking images, has the entire second floor to himself, with art that highlights his fluency in subverting traditional modes of beauty with unconventional objects. Muniz’s photo collection titled Pictures of Garbage showcases the work he produced while he was filmed for the award-winning documentary, Waste Land. In the film, Muniz, whose work often carries the weight of social activism and community engagement, worked with trash pickers who prowl the world’s largest landfill in his native Brazil to create works that capture the impoverished lives of these catadores. The collection features photographs of collages made from found objects that capture the essence of each trash picker.  

To help capture some of that essence, Muniz collaborated with each individual catador, and the result are images of breathtaking humanity and unexpected beauty. The image featured above, titled Atlas (Carlão), shows a dark-skinned man carrying a ball of trash above his head. His body appears almost as an outgrowth of the trash he carries, a clear statement on his lot in life and the resources unavailable to him. And yet, with a stoic expression on his face, the image also communicates a certain grace with which he carries himself in spite of his underprivileged life. Another portrait shows a mother with two children, their faces more suggestive of need. When viewed up close, the discarded tires and pieces of fabric that form the background seem incongruous with the sanctity of the mother, making the viewer want to reach in and help.

Fortunately, owing largely to Muniz’s commercial and critical success, the profits from the images were able to provide funding for community works for the impoverished trash pickers. And, as guests pour into the newly opened museum, the collection will help bring more awareness to the plight of these unsung heroes. The galleries are open six days a week and closed on Tuesdays. 

Photo by Andrew Fabian, This close-up of ‘Atlas (Carlão)’ shows the stoicism and grace of its subject, a catador from Jardim Gramacho landfill outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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