"Trashy" art making an international splash

Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru takes trash from all over Nairobi and turns it artwork that's shown around the world.

Posted: Dec 11, 2017 5:39 AM

Ever since he was a young boy, Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru has envisaged breathing new life into his surroundings.

"When I woke up every morning, the first thing I'd see was trash," recalls Kabiru, whose childhood home faced a garbage heap where all of Nairobi's waste was dumped. "I used to say to my dad that when I grow up, I want to give trash a second chance."

And that's exactly what he went on to do.

A self-taught sculptor and painter, Kabiru is crafting visually striking artworks from abandoned refuse he collects from the streets of the Kenyan capital.

The talented artist is best known for his "C-Stunners," a series of eye-catching handmade spectacles. In Kabiru's hands, cast-aside bolts, wires, spoons and bottle tops gain a new lease of life as vital components of whimsical pieces of art.

Stripped of their original value, the recycled materials are transformed into steampunk, one-of-a-kind creations that transcend traditional forms and challenge stereotypes.

"I don't see trash as waste," says Kabiru. "I just see the trash as a chance for creativity."

Early struggles

The resourceful artist's fascination with glasses started at a very young age, inside the small two-bedroom house he shared with his parents and five siblings.

He wanted to have a pair of his own spectacles, but his glasses-wearing father refused to give him his or get him any new ones. Back in the 1960s, Kabiru's father was beaten by his mother after accidentally destroying a pair of expensive glasses she'd bought him. That incident stayed with Kabiru's father, who told his young son that if he wanted to have eyewear, he should make it himself.

Read this: 3D cartoon sees Kenya's politicians battle like 'Transformers'

Kabiru took his father's words to heart. Soon after, he started crafting his own frames using cutlery, plastic and any other materials he could find in his house. Uninterested in studying, Kabiru would stay up at nights to sculpt and paint; at school, he'd use his creations to barter with his classmates.

"I never did exams, I never did homework," explains Kabiru. "I used to exchange: 'you'll do my homework, I'll give you my artwork, you'll do my exam, I'll give you my artwork,' so that's how I survived in school."

After finishing high school, Kabiru's father wanted him to study electronic engineering, like most members of his family.

Kabiru, however, had no desire to study. His rebellious attitude, coupled with his refusal to adhere to any norms, didn't go down well with his family or community.

"I grew up being a bad example," says Kabiru. "Grownups used to tell their kids, 'you need to work hard or you'll be end up like Cyrus.'"

International recognition

Without any support from his family, Kabiru took his artwork and moved from his house to embark on his artistic journey.

He rented a studio where, apart from his arresting spectacles, he started working on colorful and satirical paintings, as well as sculptures -- all made of recycled materials collected while roaming the streets of Nairobi.

"I love nature," says Kabiru. "I walk every day, I can't survive without walking," he adds. "I don't know how to sit idle."

Today, Kabiru's remarkable creations and commitment to the environment are increasingly earning him international recognition. He's been invited to speak at major events such as the TED2013 conference in California and Milan Fashion Week, while his work has been featured in many shows across the world.

Read this: Boy's flashy invention scares off lions

Closer to home, Kabiru says things are changing as well -- his perseverance and hard work have now turned him into a "good example" for youth in his community. Earlier this year, Kabiru's father also visited his studio for the first time and was amazed by his son's work.

"[It made me] very proud," says Kabiru. "They are now understanding me, so I'm very happy."

"Selling poverty"

It's been an arduous journey for the soft-spoken artist, now in his 20s. "It's hard to be an artist in Kenya," he admits.

But Kabiru doesn't want to dwell on the struggles of the past or the problems he's currently facing. Too many Kenyan and African artists, he says, are interested in "selling poverty instead of creativity."

"You get people saying, 'I grew up in the Kibera slum, I grew up in this place and this place, buy my art,'" says Kabiru.

"I want to change that -- not telling people about my problems, the poverty," he adds. "I think it's good to sell the creativity you have done, telling people you have this place [so they can come] to buy your work and see your ideas."

Promoting art

When he's not crafting compelling artwork in his studio, or scouring the streets for materials, Kabiru is visiting rural communities in Kenya as part of his "Outreach" initiative, aimed at encouraging creativity and raising awareness about ecological issues in his country.

In these areas, he holds workshops and teaches people how to create art with the materials surrounding them in an environmentally friendly way. He says he targets older generations because they are the ones who can have an impact in their communities.

"If I teach grandmothers something about deforestation or taking care of nature, it's easier for grandmothers to teach their children," he says.

And even though Kabiru's art is winning more and more admirers of all ages both home and abroad, there's still one older person who needs convincing.

"My grandmother is, up to now, keep looking for a good job for me," says Kabiru. "When you visit my grandmother, she asks you whether you work," he adds. "If you say you're working, she'll ask you whether you can get an extra job for me."

Terre Haute
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 59°
Robinson
Mostly Cloudy
62° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 62°
Indianapolis
Mostly Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 61°
Rockville
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 53°
Casey
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 53°
Brazil
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 59°
Marshall
Mostly Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 59°
Cloud cover returns this afternoon.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1675793

Reported Deaths: 27960
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook63468311202
DuPage1081271376
Will912621126
Lake800101085
Kane68370871
Winnebago41041560
Madison40087596
St. Clair36272596
McHenry34708329
Champaign26998197
Peoria26928368
Sangamon25754285
McLean23012218
Tazewell20647330
Rock Island18854361
Kankakee17910248
Kendall16203113
Macon15305250
LaSalle15030287
Vermilion14371199
Adams13156152
DeKalb12152133
Williamson12054174
Whiteside8297183
Jackson808694
Boone794383
Coles7888124
Ogle756887
Grundy738086
Franklin7330115
Knox7286169
Clinton7124102
Macoupin6951105
Marion6918143
Henry663777
Effingham660299
Jefferson6550143
Livingston597698
Stephenson584592
Woodford576892
Randolph5553100
Christian533682
Fulton526976
Monroe5246103
Morgan5076100
Logan495074
Montgomery491681
Lee478660
Bureau442691
Saline433869
Perry433275
Fayette430664
Iroquois421577
McDonough373761
Shelby347748
Jersey335653
Lawrence332533
Crawford332430
Douglas327337
Union306548
Wayne304063
White279833
Richland279557
Hancock274135
Cass266230
Clark265740
Pike264558
Clay258754
Edgar258049
Bond256925
Warren244066
Ford243959
Carroll236438
Moultrie234533
Johnson228131
Wabash217319
Jo Daviess216029
Massac215550
Mason214252
Washington212228
De Witt205530
Greene205340
Mercer204336
Piatt201614
Cumberland190026
Menard172213
Jasper161221
Marshall141321
Hamilton134022
Schuyler107710
Brown106510
Edwards104018
Pulaski103911
Stark81628
Gallatin7878
Alexander71912
Scott7136
Henderson70314
Calhoun6922
Hardin60116
Putnam5654
Pope5526
Unassigned1702433
Out of IL160

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 1003647

Reported Deaths: 16423
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1351072116
Lake661851159
Allen57674800
Hamilton46217464
St. Joseph44210611
Elkhart35807508
Vanderburgh32162480
Tippecanoe27859258
Johnson25007444
Hendricks23795357
Porter22856365
Madison18694408
Clark18505252
Vigo17393303
Monroe15218199
LaPorte15101250
Delaware15024261
Howard14681289
Kosciusko12260147
Hancock11682175
Bartholomew11548180
Warrick11270189
Floyd11059214
Wayne10946253
Grant10019219
Morgan9438176
Boone8891116
Dubois8249131
Dearborn819893
Henry8174152
Noble8003106
Marshall7891135
Cass7519121
Lawrence7433171
Shelby7171119
Jackson695889
Gibson6567115
Harrison646691
Huntington636899
Knox6360106
DeKalb628699
Montgomery6229109
Miami591498
Putnam577678
Clinton572171
Whitley563455
Steuben558976
Wabash5309103
Jasper527879
Jefferson509297
Ripley498686
Adams479775
Daviess4653114
Scott438473
Greene423596
Wells422588
Clay421360
White417364
Decatur4152102
Fayette405787
Jennings385961
Posey375844
Washington356150
LaGrange356078
Randolph343499
Spencer338743
Fountain333860
Sullivan327852
Starke315570
Owen313970
Fulton309167
Orange292663
Jay283445
Franklin265143
Perry264852
Rush260832
Carroll260633
Vermillion257254
Parke230426
Pike228443
Tipton227259
Blackford191841
Pulaski183157
Crawford159023
Newton156848
Benton150217
Brown145747
Martin138019
Switzerland134811
Warren120816
Union107016
Ohio84213
Unassigned0540