3 artists

There's plenty that distinguishes Vik MunizJR, and Ai Weiwei from one another, but what connects them in my mind is their ability to make large-scale, politically interesting art that retains a highly personal quality. Each has an activist streak and a desire to effect change outside galleries and museums.

Waste Land is a documentary about Vik Muniz's collaboration with several people who scavenge recyclable material in Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest trash dump located outside Rio de Janeiro.

Muniz and his crew work with the recyclers/models to create large mosaics which are photographed and auctioned off, the proceeds benefiting each model or an organization connected to that model. The story of how folks earn a living at Jardim Gramacho is, on its own, worthy of your attention, but add to that the impact of Muniz's intervention in the their lives and the film becomes extraordinary.

TED Prize winner, JR explains how his 'sidewalk galleries' evolved into a wish to change the world in the clip blow. In 2009 he told Beaux Arts Magazine, "I want to try to create images of hot spots such as the Middle East or Brazil that offer different points of view from the ones we see in the worldwide media which are often caricatures." The result of JR's TED wish is the Inside Out Project. 

Ai Weiwei is an artist and activist from China whose output includes sculpture, installations, photography, architecture, not to mention his prodigious blogging and tweeting. Frontline's short documentary, Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?, provides an excellent overview of his art and activism, particularly how he organized an investigation into poorly constructed school buildings following the Sichuan earthquake. (Why PBS doesn't enable users to embed clips baffles and frustrates me.)

A week ago, Weiwei was detained by authorities in Beijing as he was attempting to board a flight to Hong Kong; as of today, his whereabouts are unknown. Before his arrest, Weiwei described his work and the challenges he faces as an artist in China in this clip.

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