The Art of Recycling

The Art of Recycling

No one genuinely likes waste, which is why we crinkle our noses involuntarily when we walk past a heap or pile of unwanted debris. Some of us don’t see these dispensable items even when they’re right there in front of our noses. It’s a conscious yet unconscious thing – locking out the undesirable.

Residue and dregs are harmful to the environment on the long run as they attract scavengers – human and animal alike – and pests, the latter who are vectors of easily communicable diseases and infections.

When we think of waste and how to eliminate it, our thoughts as a rule of thumb, tend to stray to health or sanitary workers and this is understandable. After all, one doesn’t think of an automobile mechanic when one is ill.

But then, as the world becomes more global and interdisciplinary knowledge advances, some creative minds have found unusual solutions to niche problems. One such example is the use of waste and discarded objects to make art.

Indeed, artists like El Anatsui, Mbongeni Buthelezi, Sadika Keskes and Adeyinka Akingbade, are some of the contemporary African artists involved in the transformative use of trash to make beautiful art; as the somewhat clichéd saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. The beauty of what they do lies not only in the uncanny solution they provide by recycling waste, but even more so, in my opinion, the innovative art forms they have succeeded in manifesting through sheer will and creative expressionism.

Though some may think that their works, underscored by such minimalism come off as unremarkable, on the contrary there’s nothing cheap or uninteresting about any of them.

El Anatsui

El Anatsui, Stressed World

Born in 1944, El Anatsui is a Ghanaian sculptor whose long and active career in Nigeria began in 1975 when he started teaching at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In 2016, Harvard University awarded him an honorary doctorate.

About his art of up-cycling waste, he said during an interview:

“The amazing thing about working with this metallic ‘fabrics’ is that the poverty of the materials used in no way precludes the telling of rich and wonderful stories.

Like all great artists, Anatsui is a good storyteller and he has received much international acclaim for his distinctive ‘bottle top’ installations. His procedure is complex, yet geared towards creating beautiful simplicity using diverse tools such as chainsaws and welding torches.

His popular ‘bottle top’ installations are made through the combination of numerous aluminium bottle tops held together with copper wires. They have been collected and exhibited in many prestigious museums around the world including the British Museum, London, the Smithsonian Institute, Washington and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Mbongeni Buthelezi

Hunter Gatherer. Image credit:

Like to most up-cycle artists, Mbongeni Buthelezi’s art is not only borne out of a need to maximise waste, but to minimise costs. South African Buthelezi started experimenting with alternative materials and detritus when he couldn’t afford to procure paints and canvases while studying art at the Funda Community College in Diepkloof, Soweto. He got inspired to use plastic as a canvas from a workshop he attended but further improved on the technique by also using it as paint. This he achieved through the use of heat guns. Buthelezi’s works are largely pan-Africanist depictions that capture and tell the story of black people. His audacious art has earned him the title of ‘‘recycled plastic artist’’, and have been exhibited in Germany, Holland and the United States.

Sadika Keskes

Sadika Keskes, 48 unopera di. Image credit:

Sadika Keskes believes that the ‘rubbish world’ is a huge repository for those who desire to create and as such has committed her life to reviving an ancient art form – glass-blowing, which dates back to as far as the 14th century. Keskes is Tunisian by birth and hails from a family of craftswomen and designers. She draws inspiration from her environment and childhood experiences to create impressive and engaging glass forms, which have earned her renown as an up-cycle artist. She first trained at the School of Fine Arts, Tunis before moving to Murano in Italy to perfect her technique.

Adeyinka Akingbade

Adeyinka Akingbade, Expert, Mixed Media, 2015. Image credit:

A graduate of the Department of Painting, Yaba College of Technology, Akingbade’s current practice incorporates the use of waste paper, colourful straps from cheap roadside rubber slippers, glue, acrylic and so on, in making portraits and abstract landscapes. His works are full of character, expressive and sometimes even spirited. They are also glaringly optimistic and positive in outlook despite the tough environment in which he operates.


Tomiwa Yussuf has a background in History/International studies. With a strong bias for fictional art of varying forms, he contributes to a couple of literary blogs and is an in-house editor at When he’s not writing, he pursues other interests like digital marketing, social work and sports.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *