After the national economic crisis in Argentina in 2001, nearly 50 percent of the population was considered poor. The country has since made huge gains, but fully 25 percent of Argentines are still impoverished. With so many people struggling to make ends meet, Marga Steinwasser says that the average Argentine has become tragically numb to the poor. Steinwasser uses sculpture and mixed media artwork to encourage a second look at this huge but mostly invisible group in Argentina.
to view videos.
© Marga Steinwasser
As a society, we have become hardened towards poor people. We see the poor and impoverished every day, and eventually we are no longer concerned with how or why those people ended up where they are. In my work, my goal is to reposition these unpleasant or difficult parts of life in a new way so that people will take a second look and reconsider why they exist.
I am inspired by the social situation in Argentina, where more than a quarter of the population is poor and has few opportunities to escape poverty. I also have personal experience with this topic, as I worked for nine years in an art workshop for children in one of the impoverished residential areas that are generally known as "villas miserias" (shantytowns).
My attention is especially drawn to women and girls; women are more likely than men to be poor, and women are usually in the worst position in terms of financial stability, personal safety, and advancement opportunities. Many young women become pregnant at a very young age and must try to make a living, not just for themselves, but also for their children.
For my "Manipulare" series, I worked with pieces of wood collected near the Rio de la Plata, the estuary between Argentina and Uruguay where many poor people live, to create dolls that represent how the poor are especially vulnerable to political and social manipulation. In Argentina, in order to receive political benefits such as food subsidies or special grants, people need to "obey" the orders of the political representatives. These indicate which events they must attend, which streets should be created, whom to vote for. That naturally leads to manipulation, in this case, low-income citizens.
The "Caminata aeróbica de recolección" alludes to the thousands of cardboard collectors who roam the city looking for cardboard to resell. Starting in 2000 with the national economic crisis, the suddenly poor began walking more than 20 km a day to look for cardboard, paper or newspapers that had been thrown away, which they could resell for a small profit. They use ramshackle carts to transport a great quantity of "merchandise," thanks to which they are barely able to survive. As a consequence, many children abandon school because the collection work is done late at night, and they need the days to sleep. Adults often need to be treated for hernias caused by the heavy weights that they carry everywhere. Currently, the price of cardboard is 0.45 pesos per kilogram, and the price of white paper is 0.60 pesos per kilogram. I used red string to embroider the path of this walk - a color that I think represents danger and serves as a call to attention.
Argentina has one of the most severe wealth gaps in Latin America. The richest 10 percent of the population earns more than a third of the country's income, where the poorest 10 percent earns less than two percent of the country's income. Women make up an especially large percent of the poor, and poverty rates of women are twice as high as those of men. Women also comprise 60 percent of those employed in part time or low-skill (and therefore low paying) jobs. For more information, read our Argentina essay.
Marga Steinwasser was born and raised in Buenos Aires, where she still resides. Her work explores themes related to society and memory. Previously, she was the director of an art studio in the Cadenciado neighborhood of Buenos Aires. She has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Argentina, Mexico, Denmark, and Britain.