Dr Tony Mhonda Art Zone
The hunter-gatherer roots of recycling are still present in the memory of many Zimbabwean artists today. By our very nature indigenous Zimbabweans have a sixth sense for recycling and finding alternative uses for objects. Hence the term redefinitions of art is not new to the African mind, it is part of our creative ethos. “Kuzvarwa patsva” literally meaning to be born again, is part of an instinctive design mentality.

Creative designers and artists in Zimbabwe are perhaps the most inventive when it comes to recycling, re-using or creating new products from old waste.

Many early contemporary Zimbabwean artists such as Maxwell Gochera, Arthur Azevedo, Michelina Andreucci, Juliette Copperi, Keston Beaton, Victor Munya Madzima, Harry Mambo- kwedza Mutasa, Alberto Wachi, and Tapiwa Vambe, explored the concept of found objects, l’Art trouve as a complex form of art making and have produced a critical body of work for the history of Zimbabwean art.

Turning waste into something worthwhile be it artistic, practical or industrial, emanates from the concept of déjà vu which is real and tangible in our psyche. Shapes recall other shapes, colours recall other colours and memory and texture are rewoven from scraps of memory and a vision combined and made whole. In Zimbabwe, the Shona word “kurangarira” — to recall or remember operates on several mental, physical and spiritual planes.

Many local identical visionaries found especially amongst the sculptors, have been known to recall imagery from the vault recesses of their minds. Similarly, many indigenous artists find ready inspiration in raw materials sourced from the debris of industry. It is in recycling that one sees a meeting point between art, the economy and the environment.

With world trends showing a renewed interest in recycling since 1988 in the USA and even earlier, following the end of the Second World War (1946), it stands to reason that the practice of industrial recycling would spill over into art in the developing world.

Between 1992-1995, when I was resident in New York, Washington and San Francisco as a student, the US government in tandem with the private sector created over 5 000 recycling programmes across the states gathering recyclables from 85 million people. One can recall the establishment of a National Recycling Coalition that was formed in Washington DC.

Here, I witnessed trash being reborn, motorcar tyres being converted into petrol and fertiliser, shop floors being tiled with crushed light bulbs, plastic soft drink bottles were melted down and remoulded into Polyethylene Terephthalate — PET which was crushed to make car interiors and dashboards or crushed like confetti and used as bed and clothing insulation.

Earlier, whilst studying in Seattle, — a “Clean Washington Centre” was established as a state agency that developed markets for recyclable materials. Country recycle bins were introduced in the United States in the early 1990s. Urban and suburban residents followed a prescribed bin colour code for recyclable garbage.

I recall during my studies and tenure as a young art and archaeology student standing outside the Brooklyn Museum in 1992, and hearing the residents and unemployed tramps recite: “paper in the green, plastic metal and glass in the blue, bagged food waste in the black . . .” Two years later legislation in 1994, in Washington’s District of Columbia, required that newspaper publishing houses only printed on paper that contained a certain percentage of recycled fibre.

In the United States, 15 states reached a consensus that US publishers had to carry out this recycling programme voluntarily. In many newspaper and publishing offices, where I worked as a student intern, paper de-inking facilities were created.

Even used white bond paper, circulated in the days of internal office memos and manuscripts were converted to paper tissues and paper towels. This recycling programme had many spin-off benefits in that it also minimised the environmental damage resulting from deforestation.

Companies such as “Conserve-a-tree”, in San Francisco, created many products from waste including fertiliser for orange growers in California. In Zimbabwe the most explorative group for this form of art have been Masimba Hwati, Munyaradzi Mazarire, Johnson Zuze, Victor Nyakauru and Gareth Nyandoro who were driven to create art from found objects by sheer necessity and the dire shortage of art materials experienced during the trying economic eras of the early and mid-2000s.

They were forced to study and create art – with no available art supplies. The core group of contemporary Zimbabwean urban artists — Hwati, Nyandoro and Mazarire — have assembled their art trouve since the late 1990s and early 2000s from industrial remains and scrap materials in the form of metal, wood, plastic and other synthetic fabrications to overcome the shortage of art materials and in so doing created the movement of Redefinitions’ of Found Object d ‘Art in Zimbabwe.

These L’Art trouve —Redefinition artists are now at the forefront of contemporary art practice in many educational institutions in the country. They reside in urban and peri-urban areas of the city and present unique cultural and social perspectives of contemporary Zimbabwean history and culture.

To date, visual artists in Zimbabwe are still struggling to obtain the necessary materials to carry out their profession. Many have since resorted to foraging backyard dumps and other industrial areas in order to find suitable “objects” to recycle and up-cycle into fine works of art.

Eco-design and recycling programmes re-use by-products of industry, thus reducing the amount of waste being dumped, and harnessing new sustainable materials or production techniques.

Perhaps Zimbabwean environmentalists, industrialists and Government can learn a lesson or two from the contemporary urban artists and begin to seriously implement national recycling programmes which would on a secondary level, also create employment and generate wealth for the youth and nation at large.
● Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Post-Modern Art Theory and a Doctorate in Business Administration( DBA) in Post-Colonial Art and Heritage Studies. He holds a Law and Art Diploma from Georgetown University, Washington DC, and worked with WALA (Washington Area Lawyers Association). He worked as an intern in Psychology of Art and Remedial Art Therapy at the Lafayette School of Art Therapy for the Mentally

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