Ever since I started working on Bound in Japan, I’ve taken a much keener interest in social art–art that can be used to raise awareness, to make a difference, and to bring a community together. Recently, I saw two documentaries that beautifully exemplify this kind of art: Proceed and Be Bold! and Waste Land.

Proceed and Be Bold! is the story of Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. As an artist and a man of color, Kennedy has faced many challenges and he does so with wit and humor. He is a printmaker and he uses his art to challenge conventions. Not only that, Kennedy believes in making art accessible to all people, and his work, especially his iconic posters, is a good example of the democratic multiple–art objects that are produced and distributed as widely and inexpensively as possible with the intent of putting the art and the message into as many hands as possible.

Vik Muniz is an artist who creates images from unusual materials and photographs them. His raw materials have included sugar, chocolate sauce, and even junk. From junk, he goes to garbage–these things that we deliberately discard as useless, unwanted. Muniz culled objects from a landfill to produce a new body of photographs in collaboration with the community that survives on scavenging materials from there.

Waste Land follows Muniz as he returns to his native Brazil to work with the Association for Pickers of Jardim Gramacho. Jardim Gramacho is the largest landfill in the world, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The pickers earn a living by scavenging for recyclable materials among the mountains of trash. It is not a job that anyone would envy, but the pickers work with dignity and even pride.

These pickers became Muniz’s models and collaborators. Together they created giant portraits of the pickers, each one a composition of trash, meticulously arranged piece by piece. These portraits were then photographed, becoming not only a documentation of the process but also the final artwork. It is a transformative process, not just for the garbage but also for the pickers.

This artwork was sold, and the proceeds given to the pickers and the Association for Pickers of Jardim Gramacho. With this money came options that they did not have before. Some of them have continued to work as pickers, and some of them have used this money to start a new life beyond the landfill.

While the scale of these projects greatly differ, the story behind the art and the characters within are all equally compelling. Although the whole story may not be fully evident in the artwork, these works of art represent portals, inviting us to enter another world and explore dimensions foreign and familiar.

It is my hope that Bound in Japan will also provide such an opportunity.