October 08, 2012
On Friday October 5, Brazilian contemporary artist Vik Muniz was invited to speak at Boston University. Muniz is renowned for his documentary Waste Land, on his photographic portraits of trash pickers living in the world’s largest garbage dump in Rio de Janeiro. The lecture was the seventh of the Contemporary Perspective Lecture Series at BU.
Vik Muniz spoke much of his own personal life, beginning with his earliest memory as a child learning how to read from his grandmother. Coming from a poor-stricken family, Muniz lacked a foundation in basic rhetoric and would memorize the shape of letters and words in order to read. At school, he would draw his words rather than write them. As other kids began to draw less and write more, he continued to draw more and more. When asked when he started to be an artist, Muniz said he doesn’t quite remember when exactly he started, but remembers when everyone else around him stopped. Muniz continued to draw as a young student, and was quickly recognized for his talent.
Vik Muniz became increasingly interested in psychology and visual cognition. He began to explore the dichotomy of how one perceives an image in one’s mind and what is actually represented. He moved to New York City in 1983 and was incredibly inspired by the contemporary art scene there. It was in NYC that he became what he describes as an "educated victim," where he had to dive into contemporary art and absorb everything in order to discover himself artistically.
Always working in a series, Muniz discussed his body of work, starting from his first one, Relics, to Sugar Children, which he defined as a pivotal moment in his career, culminating with his Academy Award-nominated documentary, Waste Land. Whether he was drawing with chocolate sauce, thread, wire, diamonds, sugar, or garbage, Muniz was able to maintain a sense of realism in the pictorial perspective of the subject and in the topographical perspective of the medium. Vik Muniz didn’t stop there. After finishing a drawing, he would photograph the work and manipulate its focus, scale, and orientation with strong intent to distort the viewer’s visual narrative.
Vik has just finished an artist residency in MIT, where he developed a program that machine microscopic image onto grains of sand, which would eventually be transformed into large, high-definition prints.
The lecture not only showed the audience a humorous side of Vik Muniz, but also revealed the artist’s incredibly optimistic attitude towards life and misfortune. Despite coming from a poor family, struggling in school, getting shot, and almost being deported from the US, Vik's persistence in pursuing art and meaning is truly inspiring.
The Contemporary Perspectives Lecture Series is part of BU School of Visual Art’s Keyword Initiative. A schedule of future artist lectures can be found here.
For Take #1, click here.