Exhibition room 4. Vik Muniz

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz radically transforms our understanding of image-making by using shifts in scale, photographic manipulation and unexpected materials — from dust and chocolate to grains of sand and industrial garbage — to explore the nature of visual cognition. He is known for his deep exploration of visual perception and reproductive technologies, informed by the history of science and art. [...]

Source: Arts at MIT arts.mit.edu/artists/vik-muniz

At first glance, Isis appears to be a rough copy of Woman Ironing, one that outlines the figure and densely fills the field surrounding her. A close examination discloses, however, that the formal elements are not lines or daubs of color but objects, specifically worn pots, shoes, bottles, and cans. Scaled to the size of Picasso’s painting, Isis is the photographic record of an assemblage of materials culled from the Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill in South America, laid out on the floor of a large warehouse and then photographed from above.

Muniz collaborated with a team of men and women who earned their living by collecting recyclable materials from the Jardim, who also posed for photographs that served as the basis of the assemblages, thereby converting the historic images into versions drawn from contemporary life. A woman named Isis Rodrigues Garros, who had ended up working at the landfill after her life collapsed, became the woman ironing [...].

What first appears as a casual-looking homage to Woman Ironing, then, ultimately draws the viewer into a careful examination of the photograph and slowly divulges how seriously Muniz has engaged the theme of Picasso’s painting, projecting it into the lives of urban laborers today. [...] Muniz’s project benefited Isis and her co-workers in a very real way: they received the proceeds from the sale of a set of the photographs. [...] Muniz had found a way to remove Picasso’s painting from the isolation imposed on it by fame and to revive its compelling image, one that transforms the toil of one individual into an icon of humanity’s suffering.

Source: exhibition catalogue for “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” Michael FitzGerald