Faraway: Get Out of Your World
An Honest Day’s Work
Spend a little time on the streets of any major metropolis and you will soon notice the trash pickers - those who come along with a cart, stooping to pick up recyclable trash off the streets or sifting through garbage bins on the sidewalk, sorting out the cans, glass, and plastic to add to their collection. At the end of the day, these self-appointed trash pickers will slowly haul the heavy load to the closest recycle center and pick up a few dollars for their days’ work.
Most of us pay little attention to these volunteer recyclers. Some of us even consider them a nuisance, thinking they’re just another bum in our way. But, such is not the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. These tireless workers actually remove the majority of trash off the streets every day in cities around the world. Yet they go unrecognized and unappreciated.
It took a graffiti artist in Brazil to bring the world’s attention to these invisible recyclers. Here is his story:
Mundano is an artist who has been coloring the gray walls of Sao Paulo, Brazil, one of the biggest cities in the world. Using graffiti as a social revolution, his characters convey messages that force people to consider the problems around them. His Carroceiros project gives respect to the people who collect the city’s recycled trash.
“My art expresses the feeling of every Mundano in the city, whether you not happy with the politics or you want to scream out your mind, that’s what my art is made for, to represent the voice of the Mundano.”
The word Mundano means Mundo + Humano (the world + the humans) - the people of the city who interact with the urban life and are attached to its roots.
The city of Sao Paulo has a project called "Clean City" which is not only meant to clean the city itself but the walls full of rich and original Brazilian graffiti art. What happens is they paint over the graffiti pieces with plain gray paint taking away the beauty of colors made by these great artists. Mundano shows that the city should care more about cleaning criminals, corrupt politicians and the actual trash on the streets instead of the paintings on the wall. "They erased everything and painted it gray, the only thing left is sadness and fresh paint. Kindness generates kindness," said Mundando, after painting the same spot for the 13th time.
"I started this because everyone looks different to these guys that work hard pushing a wooden cart to collect and make money out of recycled trash. Nobody actually realizes that the work they are doing is totally hard and honest and they are the ones that are cleaning the streets. My goal is that the 'carroceiros" (people that push these carts) get more respect from the society for the hard work they do. I see a lot of guys wearing ties and looking at them like they are from another world, calling them names, and beeping at them to get out of the way, while they recycle trash that they don't even produce."
Here is an excerpt from Mundano’s T.E.D. talk:
Our world has many superheroes. But they have the worst of all superpowers: invisibility. For example, the catadores, workers who collect recyclable materials for a living. Catadores emerged from social inequality, unemployment, and the abundance of solid waste from the deficiency of the waste collection system.
Catadores provide a heavy, honest and essential work that benefits the entire population. But they are not acknowledged for it. Here in Brazil, they collect 90 percent of all the waste that's actually recycled.
Most of the catadores work independently, picking waste from the streets and selling to junk yards at very low prices. They may collect over 300 kilos in their bags, shopping carts, bicycles and carroças. Carroças are carts built from wood or metal and found in several streets in Brazil, much like graffiti and street art. And this is how I first met these marginalized superheroes.
I am a graffiti artist and activist and my art is social, environmental and political in nature. In 2007, I took my work beyond walls and onto the carroças, as a new urban support for my message. But at this time, giving voice to the catadores. By adding art and humor to the cause, it became more appealing, which helped call attention to the catadores and improve their self-esteem. And also, they are famous now on the streets, on mass media and social.
So, the thing is, I plunged into this universe and have not stopped working since. I have painted over 200 carroças in many cities and have been invited to do exhibitions and trips worldwide. And then I realized that catadores, in their invisibility, are not exclusive to Brazil. I met them in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, Turkey and even in developed countries such as the United States and Japan. And this was when I realized that I needed to have more people join the cause because it's a big challenge. And then, I created a collaborative movement called Pimp My Carroça -- which is a large crowdfunded event to help catadores and their carroças.
In two years, over 170 catadores, 800 volunteers and 200 street artists and more than 1,000 donors have been involved in the Pimp My Carroça movement, whose actions have even been used in teaching recycling at a local school.
So catadores are leaving invisibility behind and becoming increasingly respected and valued. Because of their pimped carroças, they are able to fight back to prejudice, increase their income and their interaction with society.
So now, I'd like to challenge you to start looking at and acknowledging the catadores and other invisible superheroes from your city. Try to see the world as one, without boundaries or frontiers. Believe it or not, there are over 20 million catadores worldwide. So next time you see one, recognize them as a vital part of our society.
Here are some photos of Mundano's work.