Among the many things that New York-based artist Portia Munson is, she was first, and always will be, a collector.
From a young age, Munson has been collecting plastics from landfills, swap shops and yard sales to delineate them in a way that challenges what it means to be a woman and a citizen of planet Earth. Her work consistently explores the meaning of colour, the destruction of nature and the definition of femininity through installations, mandalas and still life paintings.
Munson says she works to make something ‘beautiful and disturbing” out of the items she finds and the way that she pieces and places these items together continuously touch on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Gender Equality, Responsible Consumption and Production and Climate Action.
Using her lifetime collection of plastics and waste, Munson has been releasing and reforming her series the Pink Project, which was originally conceived in 1994 to redefine femininity through garbage.
“I was just curious about pink, and being a woman at that time, associated with this colour and that meant,” she says. “I have had people say to me that they'll never look at pink in the same way again.”
Munson’s arrangements of her collected pink objects is a jarring reminder that the consistent flow of marketing fed to female audiences will continue to live in landfills, even when the audience is long gone.
Munson says it’s not hard for her to find all of this plastic. According to the journal of Science Advances, of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons has become waste and remains unrecycled.
“I live in a very rural area, so we have a stream nearby,” she explains. “There’s hardly anything upstream from us, but I still will find trash in the woods along the stream bed.”
Over the course of time, Munson has also observed and collected colours such as blue and green, questioning what they mean as well in the context of marketing and influence. “Green was kind of used to sort of soften more sinister things like poison, or bug repellent,” she says. “Now it’s intentional, it’s called greenwashing.”
Munson’s focus on environmentalism is not limited to installations. Throughout her career, Munson has been creating massive mandalas by laying flowers onto a high-resolution scanner to preserve the beauty and intricacies of flora.
However, more recently, Munson has added animals she found to her work.
“I’ll oftentimes find a bird or creature on the side of the road,” she says. “I’ll collect the creature and lay out the flowers and sort of make a memento mori, documenting the creature that died that day. Very rarely have I found a bird or creature that just seemed to die sort of naturally. You can really see the human impact.”
Munson believes that we have become desensitized to all the plastic in our lives and to creatures dying from unnatural causes.
“I hope that maybe my work, sort of slows people down a little and makes them think about it a little more.”
Munson currently has many exciting projects on the go, including creating art that highlights mass-produced representations of women, called “Functional Women.” To learn more about her work, visit her Instagram or website.