Social Impact Arts Prize

In our latest newsletter, we take a look at Environmental Art. Specifically, we consider artwork that addresses the detrimental effect of man’s consumerism on communities, together with the irreversible damage to the ecology.

The Social Impact Arts Prize welcomes submissions from diverse creative practitioners that will inspire communities through creativity. The deadline for entries is 15 December 2019.


Rubbish Renaissance

We live in the so-called Anthropocene Age. A moment, depressingly described by experts, as the point at which human impact on the Earth is so profound that we have damaged our ability to feed people, provide water and safe living environments for future generations of man and the natural world. Whatever we do next-from plastic pollution, nuclear contamination and deforestation to species extinction-is down to every one of us.

In 2009, artist Vik Muniz focused on a largely ignored community of 5000 catadores in his native Rio, a community which sorts the rubbish of the city’s 6-million strong population. They work on one of the largest landfills in Latin America – a vast open-air dump surrounded by toxic waste – reclaiming a vast proportion of the rubbish generated. Muniz acknowledges that with a twist of fortune, he might easily have become a catador himself.

“These people are at the other end of consumer culture,” says Muniz to TIME magazine. “I was expecting to see people who were beaten and broken. But they are survivors.”

Muniz also chose the catadores as his physical models for a body of artworks. The catadores posed in a makeshift studio at the dump for photographs based on classical paintings. Muniz then faithfully recreated each image using carefully selected trash taken from the dump. These immaculate large-scale portraits-the end results uncannily similar to the original photograph-reveal their rubbish origins only on closer examination.

Muniz sold the waste portraits at auction in London, returning the full proceeds of the sale to the catadores in support of them, strengthening their labour union, aiming at educating and protecting the workers of their neighbourhood, Jardim Gramacho, in Rio. Ultimately, Vik Muniz’s project succeeds in conveying a deeply humane presence that emerges from this overlooked community of catadores and the world they inhabit.

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"Anatomy”, after Francesco Bertinatti (Picture of Junk) by Vik Muniz, Christies Auction, 25 January 2019 (Alamy)


Environmental art as an art term is deceptive, seemingly associated solely with nature and ecology, yet it is also intricately entwined with social issues. Use of the term, ‘environmental art’, has broadened in recent years as a result of more artists choosing to consider their surroundings as part of a cohesive system in which humans have a central part to play.

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In the surrounding area of Graaff-Reinet, the prehistoric cave art embodies one of the principles of environmental art as the drawings reflect how intertwined the human lives of our shared ancestors were, with the forces of nature.

An inspiring example of a local creative team in Graaff-Reinet who is rethinking the process of recycling and transforms discarded plastic grocery bags into beautiful and practical products is plasticity. Read more on them below:

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