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Last week at their showroom in Hollywood, Levi's showcased the latest line in their "Friends Of" project. The "Friends Of" line features graphic tees designed by a group of creative friends to support their favorite cause—David Byrne, Sofia Coppola and Dave Eggers were among last year's contributors. This year, the company turned to Brazilian visual artist Vik Muniz, a photographer whose work has been shown at MoMA and the Whitney. His images were also the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary Wasteland, in which he created artwork with garbage workers in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. He invited fellow artist Mark Bradford, designers Fernando and Humberto Campana and filmmaker Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Rio), to design shirts as well. Proceeds from the line go to Spectaculu Art and Technology School, a non-profit that provides free education and workshops to young people in Rio de Janeiro. Students at Spectaculu are now working on new computers provided by Intel, another partner in the project.
We got to talking to Muniz about his inspiration and how he got his friends involved in the project.
Coming from a background in photography, how did you approach this project?
"I ran a screenshop when I was a kid, when I was 15. I used to make T-shirts for all kinds of things. Nothing that I would be proud of today. It was something that I've always had an interest in. I found that if you have something that gives you a buzz when you look at it, people would look at you.
When I think of T-shirts I think of a walking canvas. I don't think about fashion."
Your T-shirt is very minimal compared to your past photography.
"They were very basic, very primitive abstract representations as they refer to line drawings. If you think of it as a pencil drawing, you see a wire, which is something that happened in time, it has a scale. You are once removed from it. When you see it's a photograph, it immediately creates sort of a layer of ambiguity. You start trying to fill in the impression. "How big was this? What kind of wire? How long did it take to make?" You're not looking at an image, you're just thinking about how it was made. On a T-shirt it works well too. It is a bird sitting on barbed wire, and the same wire that makes the wire makes the bird."
How did you incorporate your friends in the project?
"It is a social project. I thought, how do I get to do a social project? I thought of Mark Bradford because he comes out of a rough neighborhood. He's an example of someone who has always kept a strong link to his origins. The Campana brothers, because they're able to transform the commonplace, they pull things into beautiful objects. Carlos Saldanha, I called him because I kept thinking of animation as being this amazing, high-end form of communication. It's so accessible. Anybody can relate to animation. We tried to put together an eclectic group.
Also, Intel furnished about 30 computers for the school. The images the students made, once we sent them to Levi's, they were like, "Wow, that's impossible!" They were so well done. So now we're trying to figure out how to continue this project and tap into their creative resources to produce more kinds of T-shirts. I'm trying to continue this conversation with Levi's."
All four shirts, and more information on Spectaculu, are available on Levi's website at www.levi.com/friendsof.
· Friends Of [Levi's]