Thursday, January 26, 2012

Something from nothing

As is the case in many Third World countries, most South African families don’t have enough money to give toys to their kids.  As would be expected, the kids make their own – usually from stuff that nobody wants.

Ever since I can remember, I have watched kids (usually Black) playing with toys that were far removed from the Lego, Meccano, Lionel trains, and so on that I was privileged to have.  When young, my reaction was confused because I didn’t quite grasp the implications of poverty.  The older I became, the more I appreciated the creativity of these home-made toys.  Today I covet them.
What has happened is that this creativity has spilled over into the general community, which has needed to find ways to make money in times of horrific unemployment.  So we are blessed in South Africa by a plethora of arts and crafts made from trash or stuff that no one else wants.  My house is filled with them.
Pop cans are a huge resource for the do-it-yourself artist or toy maker.  My online research indicates that Americans throw away, not recycle, 1500 cans a second - that's billions a year.  Although not as wasteful, South Africans also gets rid of millions.  Here is what you can do with them.
Roses – I have this bunch sitting on my desk in my office.  Also saves water in this drought-prone land.

Sculpture – I saw this Coca Cola lion in a local shop.

Pictures – incorporating used cans and other leftovers into wall hangings is very popular here.  How many brands can you find incorporated?

Tired of boring frames for pictures or mirrors?  There is an alternative.

These handbags or purses use old car number plates as decoration.

And these notebooks have Castle lager cans as covers.

Do you need a shopping basket?  Here's one made from cardboard, packets, advertising, etc.

Or need to know the time?

One of my favorite styles are baskets made from telephone wires.  I wonder why my phone doesn’t work all the time.

A year or so ago, I was wandering around the Winterberg mountains, and I came across a little coop started by a farmer.  She sold crafts made by locals, funneling all the money back to the artist.  I couldn’t resist this hippo (a kubu) made from mud by a nine year old boy.  It was his first sale as an artist.

One of my coffee tables sports half a dozen or so bird sculptures made from seed pods, mud, and wire.  I love them.

Very common throughout the country is ‘stuff’ made from wire.  It is fascinating to watch an artist sitting on the side of the road start with a long piece of wire, which is slowly bent into something gorgeous, like the baobab tree shown below, which I photographed on my village Knysna's Main Street. 

Here is the one I own.  I use it to hold the dried proteas picked from my garden.

It didn’t take long for these artists to incorporate beads into their work, and bead pieces are now a separate genre.  Look at the detail of this cock.

Anything can be used as subject matter from lizards, to giraffes, to seahorses (the symbol of my village, Knysna).

And all of this is separate from the wonderful wood and soapstone sculptures that are for sale everywhere.
I'm so lucky to live in a place where creativity thrives, producing objects rich in colour and design. 
Stan - Thursday


  1. Each of these pieces would sell in minutes at an American craft fair. The first of the wall hangings, the children running in the street, is so full of energy! I didn't notice any logos in the pieces, except for the ubiquitous Coke cans. I didn't look for them because that wuls spoil the effect.

    Real talent finds its way into the light.

  2. So much ingenuity working its way into whimiscal and beautiful pieces. I was especially touched by your purchase of the mud hippo, the first piece crafted by a young boy. I had a simular experience in Mexico buying a ceramic pot from a budding artist. Glad to see that these pieces have found a home/buyer who appreciates them.

  3. I love this, Stan. I've seen similar creativity in Southeast Asia, with its roots in the same kind of poverty. People everywhere bring something from nothing - it's one of the defining aspects of being human.

  4. Absolutely stunning works of art, all the more amazing for having been created from recycled bits and pieces.

    I'm especially fond of the lion - such majesty - and I don't even like Coke!

  5. I've seen this stuff for decades, and I'm blown away by it as much now as when I first saw it. I wish I could buy it all.

  6. Hi Stan - if I was forced to pick your hippo would get my vote. All this creativity makes me feel like a lump on a log.

  7. I think I would buy that lump on a log!! It is EXTREMELY creative!

  8. Stunning as DJ said....when I saw you boys in San Mateo you mentioned you were going to post about your art collection - so glad you shared, thank you!

    PS Will they halve the Edgar for you? It might be hard since it's ceramic :)

  9. I wonder if graffiti is less where this sort of glorious transforming art is practiced?

  10. Good question, Jeff. I never thought about that. Of course there is graffiti, but nothing like what I see in the States, some of which is very beautiful, although I admit to not always being able to understand it or read the words (are they words?).

  11. In the States the "words" used to be the signature of the artist. In Greece, a political slogan. These days they're probably more an alternative method for publication.

  12. I like the idea of exercise books covered in lager cans. But seriously, ingenious.

    As for graffiti, in London it's an art. In fact, one of our most famous and notorious modern artists, Banksy, started off as a graffiti artist (as did the chap who designed my website...cost a damn sight more than a can of pain, mind...)