Vik Muniz is a creative, humble and generous artist and philanthropist. Born in Sao Paulo in 1961 into a poor Brazilian family, he was able to escape the world he thought he knew, and move to America where he became a successful and well-respected artist. As a result of his journey, he acknowledges his responsibility to give back to those less fortunate. One night when Muniz was 18, he witnessed and tried to stop a street fight while on his way back from his first black-tie event. He was mistaken for one of the fighters and was accidentally shot in the leg. The money the shooter paid Muniz to not press charges enables him to pay for a trip to New York. There his friend lent him a studio where he began as a sculptor and slowly moved to drawing and photography.
Muniz has created over 26 collections of art. At first glance, it seems as though he is solely recreating familiar images or works of art. However, as you examine the picture more closely, it becomes clear that Muniz utilizes numerous mediums.
Somewhat early in his career, Muniz created a series called “Sugar Children”, photographing children of sugar plantation workers from St. Kitts in the Caribbean. Using sugar and sprinkling it on black paper he created images using the same material that enslaved their parents. Muniz creatively relates the materials he uses to the image’s meaning.
Valentine, The Fastest. Sugar Children, 1996
Valicia Bathes in Sunday Clothes. Sugar Children, 1996
In a later collection, “Pictures of Chocolate”, Muniz uses chocolate syrup as a medium. “Chocolate makes you think of love, luxury, romance, obesity, scatology, stains, guilt, etc.” One of his most famous works of art is based on Han’s Namuth's photograph of Jackson Pollock throwing paint on a canvas. Muniz’s piece is completely rendered in chocolate sauce spread across vellum, replacing Pollock’s shinny, wet splashed paint.
Action photo, after Hans Namuth. Pictures of Chocolate, 1997
Muniz focused on perishable materials, wishing to document their fleeting lifespan. As he experimented with foods, he realized that Andy Warhol’s work seemed to be the perfect vehicle. Muniz used peanut butter and jelly to recreate the Mona Lisa.
Double Mona Lisa (Peanut Butter and Jelly). After Warhol, 1999
Later in Muniz’ career, he created “Pictures of Garbage", captured in Lucy Walker’s 2010 documentary Waste Land. She narrates his involvement with one of the world’s largest landfills, Jardim Gramacho Gramacho Garden) located in Rio de Janeiro. The 9,000 tons of garbage dumped daily provides jobs for thousands of “catadores”, those who make a living by collecting recyclable materials from mounds of trash. Muniz photographed 6 catadores in allegorical situations. He then enlarged the images, placed them on the floor to act as a stencil. With the help of the catadores, he covered the images using materials they had recycled. He then photographed the final images, and sold them at auction in London. He donated all proceeds to the landfill organization to improve the lives of the pickers.
Pictures of Garbage. 2008
Thanks to my mother who was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, I am fortunate to have dual citizenship. I have spent endless summers in Rio, known for its breathtaking beaches, soccer, and carnival. However, its favelas, or slums, are home to more than one million people. I annually spend winter vacations in Brazil with my grandparents and have been blessed to see the best that Rio has to offer. However, I also have witnessed the poverty of the less fortunate. I chose to write about Vik Muniz because I admire his incredible creativity, as well as his willingness to give back to the community. Brazilians are full of life. They love samba, caipirinhas (an alcoholic drink), and long afternoons at the beach. But the country has gone through various economic ups and downs, and life for many has not been easy. I am aware of these socio-economic problems and applaud the few who go out of their way to make a difference. Muniz is one of them.
“The really magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you. A lot of the time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it.” – Vik Muniz
Kino, Carol. "Where Art Meets Trash and Transforms Life." New York Times, 21 Oct. 2010. Web. 6 Oct. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/arts/design/24muniz.html?pagewanted=all>.
Muniz, Vik, Leonel Kaz, Nigge Piovesan. Loddi, and Paulo Herkenhoff. Vik. Rio De Janeiro: Aprazível Ediçoes, 2009. Print.
Muniz, Vik. Reflex: A Vik Muniz Primer. New York: Aperture, 2005. Print.
Walker, Lucy. Waste Land. 2010. Film.