African artists turn to upcycling for their works

Creating art can be expensive, so in many African countries, artists turn to upcycling and the scrapyards for their materials. Upcycling has established itself as a viable method of obtaining the materials needed to create sculptures, paintings, home décor and other artworks. This practice is not only sustainable, but it is affordable too – allowing artists across Africa to earn a living by turning found objects and materials into artworks that have value.

Upcycling is the process of gathering waste materials, scrap metals and discarded appliances, and turning them into new products that have a greater value or artistic sentiment. It is an environmentally-friendly practice that salvages waste from landfills and repurposes it into usable products or works of art. 

Upcycling has become common practice in modern African art. Sourcing materials for free and creating saleable sculptures or paintings is a good way to earn a living and support a family for African artists. In the process, they are protecting the environment and giving new life to waste materials that could cause litter and environmental degradation. Upcycling saves natural resources and allows creators to earn money through the sale of upcycled artworks.

Waste and litter is a problem in Africa

Many African countries battle with litter and unregulated waste. A recent World Bank report estimates that sub-Saharan Africa generates 62-million tonnes of waste each year. A large portion of this waste is not sent to landfills or recycling facilities; it is illegally dumped in rivers and unused bush near cities and small towns. This litter poses a significant threat to the environment.

However, an abundance of waste also means a great opportunity for African artists that use recycled and upcycled materials for their creations. These sculptures have a unique character and authenticity, but they also highlight the problem of pollution. Artists use these waste materials to shed light on the amount of valuable resources that are going to waste each year. 

A large portion of recyclable materials, such as metals, glass, plastic and paper, are being left in landfills, scrap yards or the environment, rather than being processed at recycling facilities or reused in the household. These materials can be reused and African artists are demonstrating just how this can be done. Animal sculptures made from scrap steel are among the most popular sculptural artworks created in Africa and sold worldwide.

Upcycling promotes sustainability through art

Artists are using this method to promote the idea of sustainability through art. It helps to preserve the environment and protect Africa’s thousands of unique species of animals. An upcycled sculpture can represent many things to many people; some may like it for its aesthetic value, while others may appreciate the rawness of the material and the artist’s talent. Whatever emotion the sculptures evoke, the artists are connecting to the observer through a sustainable practice.

Common scrap materials used by these artists include sheet metal, screws, nails, steel tubes, wire and beverage cans. The artists are skilled in the cutting, bending and welding of these materials – often creating representations of animals with extreme similarities and characteristics. These handmade sculptures display the creative and practical talent of the artists in an unbelievable way.


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Written by Joshua Oates

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