There is no other instrument in the world that is able to both excite and intrigue me with just one note the way that the banjo can. I have always been a sucker for a song with a banjo in it. There is something so fun, so home-y about the music that is created at the hands of this instrument. In fact, there is one man who knows the in’s and out’s of a banjo like no other…Bela Fleck. In his documentary Throw Down Your Heart, Bela Fleck travels to Africa to reunite the banjo with its home roots. Along the journey he stops off at several different corners of Africa to play and record with a few of the locals who incorporate music into every part of their day.
“In everything that one does music is there. If somebody has lost a relative their crying is musical.”
With each region Bela Fleck visits he comes across numerous musicians who are proud to share with him their own songs. From the relatives of an African music legend, to a female thumb piano player, to one of the last traditional tribes in Africa each bring a sound uniquely their own. However, the one man who stood out the most to me was Walusimbi Nsimbambi Haruna, a professional folk musician. In one part of the film Haruna takes Fleck to Lwanika Village where he was born and where his late father is now buried. Here he sings a song about Death with Fleck playing right alongside him. This performance is both beautiful and heart wrenching. The way it has Haruna weeping after the song has finished just goes to show how profound music can be as well as the memories that are woven within it.
“I’d rather want everything and have nothing, than have everything and want nothing.”
Where does all of our garbage go? What happens to all of that waste that we so carelessly dispose of? Never before would I have asked myself these questions or even remotely considered the answer. However, for Rio de Janeiro the answer is obvious…Jardim Gramacho. In Vik Muniz’s documentary Waste Land he mentions that with his art he wants to, “change the lives of a group of people with the same material that they deal with everyday.” With the help of Fabio, the director of Vik’s studio in Rio, the two set off to Jardim Gramacho where they meet a handful of people working the landfill who truly bring the project to life.
Within this documentary we meet Tiao, the president of the Association of Pickers of Jardim Gramacho (ACAMJG), Zumbi, Isis, Valter, Magna, Irma, and Suelem. Throughout the film it is easy to become emotionally invested in each of their lives and the stories that they share with us. At one point of the film I even felt myself tearing up when Isis was recalling the story of her three-year-old son that she had lost to acute pneumonia. The way Vik framed each of the pickers’ portraits magnificently showcases the spirit of those featured as well as the strength that each of them possess.
Before this film I never knew that such a place existed let alone the masses of people that sustain a livelihood from it. Waste Land has opened my eyes to a whole new world of labor that I couldn’t even begin to imagine having to endure. Yet, the amazing thing is that some of the people working at the landfill don’t consider it as something they have to endure but rather something to take great pride in. Take Valter for example. He is the vice president of ACAMJG and considers his job as one that helps prevent pollution from destroying the environment. He is proud of what he does and it’s impossible to miss the way his eyes sparkle just from talking about it. Despite the landfill being closed in 2012, there is no doubt in my mind that with this documentary Vik Muniz has managed to both bring an awareness to an environment that we otherwise may have never heard of and shine a light on a few of the admirable pickers who worked there.
When it comes to picking an intriguing art form, for me, photography tends to take a backseat behind many of the other styles out there. While I can easily see how many can become enraptured by certain photographs it has never been my go-to exhibit when visiting museums. However, after watching Art21’s feature on Sally Mann I too can now admit that I have become captivated by a photographers work. It is obvious, just from this short interview with Mann, that she puts everything she has into her work and that it consumes all of her being.
“If it doesn’t have ambiguity don’t bother to take it. […] It’s got to have some sort of peculiarity in it or it’s not interesting to me.”
When it comes to the controversial photographs of her kids she mentions that it’s not that she has an interest in photographing children it’s just that they were simply there. She doesn’t see their nudity as something to be upset about because to her it is perfectly normal. That is how she grew up and that is how she raised her own kids. When I look at the photographs that she has taken of those in her family my eye doesn’t focus on the nudity of those featured. Instead I see the stubborn curiosity of a young girl or the unbreakable bond between siblings. Sally Mann has a brilliant talent for capturing the innocence of a child and it is that with which we should focus on not what may or may not be seen as controversial in today’s society.