Charlie Pullen

A community is a group of people bound together by something they have in common. Socially engaged art can have a profound effect on how a community functions, in that it can bring people together and highlight issues or people that seem to have been left behind. It can strengthen community ties in an increasingly atomised society.

An artist who created an exemplary model for this is Vik Muniz. He travelled back to his native home in 2008 where the world’s largest landfill is located: Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Here the ‘workers’ search the landfill site for valuable recyclable materials to pick out of the rubbish thrown away by those who are more fortunate in the Brazilian capital. They pick in dangerous conditions and themselves and their communities are plagued with poverty.

Muniz assisted the workers in creating huge self portraits from the immense number of recyclable items they have recovered during their daily picks at Jardin Gramacho. He did this by taking photos of the workers at the landfill site and projecting them onto a warehouse floor. The workers then helped him recreate the projected image with recyclable items. These ‘Pictures of Garbage’ were sold with the proceeds going back into the community: $200,000 was donated by Muniz and his compatriots in the project.

The project was intended to give the pickers a new perspective on themselves and their communities – improving the way they look at what they do and how it benefits their community. Post project it has been reported that the project has helped lift the social stigma around the pickers work and the Brazilian government is now using the documentation of the project (film – wasteland) to promote recycling nationwide. This gives a feeling of further purpose and inclusion to the pickers in the community of Rio as it recognises and celebrates their work.