Vik Muniz

Colour me inspired

One thing that always draws my eye is bright colour. So when I saw this photograph on the front of the Arts section of my Sunday New York Times, I started reading the article immediately.  It turned out to be a review by the wonderful arts writer, Michael Kimmelman, about a new exhibition on how design is helping to improve the lives of the impoverished around the globe.  I recommend the article for its inspiring take on how simple design can make huge changes, and in this case how whole neighbourhoods can be uplifted. In a life where too often we wrestle with our ridiculous "first world problems", it's good to be reminded of what's really important in life.

I think about colour constantly and in my own home I have seen that bright colour can lift people's moods. But can colour really help the poor? The photograph above is the Santa Marta neighbourhood of Rio de Janerio, Brazil, and the project has its own web page. Originally two Dutch artists, Haas & Hahn, began with wall murals in depressed neighbourhoods and then their vision extended to painting a whole block with colour, which is the Santa Marta square you see above. And now they have a new project, painting an entire favela, a Brazilian shanty town, towards which they are working on fundraising.

So how does this painting benefit the poor? Well, first off, locals were trained and paid to do the painting, so they got a pay cheque and acquired a skill. Secondly the neighbourhood has become a tourist attraction, with the traffic and interest that come from that. And finally, I think that having a beautiful monument must be adding to the self-esteem of those who live in the neighbourhood. Art and beauty feed the soul.

A Vik Muniz painting in progress
This project reminds me of an inspiring film about a project by the artist, Vik Muniz. In this film, Waste Land, Muniz collaborates with a small impoverished community around a huge garbage dump in his native Brazil. We get to see the development of amazing art as well as the blossoming of the artistic souls of the catadores, or garbage pickers. As I watched this film with my teen-aged son, we both were moved to tears, or at least sniffling in his case.

In my day-to-day practice, I like to think that I make art that inspires, but it's good to be reminded that there are artists who are taking their practice to inspiring heights by becoming agents of change. We can all aspire to do more with art.