Vik Muniz’s Oscar-nominated “Waste Land” on PBS Tonight

“Waste Land,” a film about the Brooklyn-based, Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz, which recounts a celebrated artist using his work as an instrument to promote social justice. The documentary accompanies Muniz to Brazil, where he plans to harvest garbage from one the world’s largest landfills and use it to assemble portraits of people who scavenge the dump for their livelihoods. Expecting to be met with hostility, he and an assistant visit the site and discover instead a community of amiable and well-mannered workers. Rather than proceed on his own, he decides to collaborate with the workers on their “garbage” portraits and to return proceeds from sale of the artworks to improve their lives.

The contemporary art world may be an orgy of the rich, but occasionally it shows a glimmer of compassion for the poor. That’s the takeaway from “Waste Land,” a film about the Brooklyn-based, Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz, which recounts a celebrated artist using his work as an instrument to promote social justice.

Vik Muniz at Jardim Gramacho
Vik Muniz at Jardim Gramacho

The documentary accompanies Muniz to Brazil, where he plans to harvest garbage from one the world’s largest landfills and use it to assemble portraits of people who scavenge the dump for their livelihoods. Expecting to be met with hostility, he and an assistant visit the site and discover instead a community of amiable and well-mannered workers. Rather than proceed on his own, he decides to collaborate with the workers on their “garbage” portraits and to return proceeds from sale of the artworks to improve their lives.

Scene from Lucy Walker film "Waste Land" about Vik Muniz's socially engaged project in Brazil
Scene from Lucy Walker film “Waste Land” about Vik Muniz’s socially engaged project in Brazil

An Oscar nominee for Best Documentary this year and winner of the Audience Awards at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival, the 93-minute film — directed by Lucy Walker (“Devil’s Playground,” “Countdown to Zero,” “Blindsight”) and with a soundtrack by Moby — was recently released on digital and DVD and has its television premiere tonight (April 19 – WNET 13 at 10 PM) on PBS’s “Independent Lens.”

Click here or on an image to read my review in The Washington Post.

Jason Edward Kaufman

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Jason Edward Kaufman is an art historian and critic with expertise in museums and the international art world.

A complete list of past articles is available here.

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