Thursday, February 29, 2024

Art Finds Beauty in E-Waste


The world of art has transformed and Africa has not been left behind as its art is being gentrified. Art in Africa has shifted from a naïve perspective of a collection of artefacts. It can now be described as unique, old, provocative, attractive and with any other mind-blowing descriptive words. African art is with stories, history and reflections. As contemporary art garners international attention, art shows and space are yet to be on the rise. The total sales in the global art market in 2017 stood at $63.7 billion. Africa together with Asia only accounted for less than 4 per cent of the total sales.

Figure 2art by Rosemary Karuga. image source:

90-year-old Rosemary Karuga was the first woman graduate in Makerere art school, she developed a distinctive style of art using collages of local materials. She also incorporated newspapers and magazines. Her work was exhibited with other leading artists on the continent. Despite having numerous successes African artists’ work is not exhibited with much enthusiasm as it is in other parts of the world. In addition, they also face challenges such as the lack of funds.

Africa artists face the scarcity of materials to aid in their work. Some artists have embraced diversity in their work making it unique. Moreover, they have embraced art in a bid to have a sustainable environment through upcycling of E-waste materials making way to  African countries.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 85 percent of electronic waste in Africa comes from domestic consumption. The problem remains a challenge as the number of used equipment from industrialized countries continues to stream in. E-waste contains hazardous substances: mercury and lead, endocrine and brominated flame retardants. These are released during disposal and dismantling activities. In turn, the health of the people involved in these operations is at risk.

Figure 3 e-waste in Agbogbloshie. image source:

Ghana is one of the countries where e-waste ‘goes to die.’ Agbogbloshie slum, a former wetland is the hardest hit region in the area. The poor in this region spend their time dismantling the electronic waste present in a bid to make a living through reselling parts of some gadgets.  Ivory Coast has not been left behind.

According to European union founded E-waste implementation tool kit, Abidjan generates up to 1500 tons of e-waste annually. An artist by the name Desire Koffi has come up with a way to incorporate environmental sustainability and his artistry.

Figure 4koffi desire’s art. image source:

He searches for his materials- old and damaged electronics in the neighbourhoods of Koumassi in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan. Koffi buys his material for about $1 as key components for his e mixed-media artwork. He dismantles the gadgets to useable components. He then proceeds to make human silhouettes or urban scenes from the pieces of keyboards and phone screens. Once his pieces are complete he sells for at least $173. He says that his number one goal is to try, in his own small way to reduce electronic waste found in the streets and bins.

Despite this, support from the government and non- governmental organizations should be incorporated so as to aid the artists in marketing their work as well as have a clear path in acquiring the materials needed.

Sustainable art will pave the way for a clean environment while at the same time providing the materials required in the artwork. With mobile phones and other electronics acting as umbilical cords to the digital world, their innovations are still on the rise. Art is one of the solutions to the e-waste menace.

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