An artist creates artwork from waste products in Livingstone, one of the world’s most deforested towns. Cape Town’s Heath Nash is at the centre of the project. Picture: STRUAN DOUGLAS
An artist creates artwork from waste products in Livingstone, one of the world’s most deforested towns. Cape Town’s Heath Nash is at the centre of the project. Picture: STRUAN DOUGLAS

Greenpop hosts the annual Zambia festival of action in Livingstone, bringing together volunteers, pupils and participants from all over the world to work hand in hand with locals to learn, enjoy and make a difference.

Now in its sixth year, the Greenpop festival has ensured the planting of 15,000 trees in Livingstone and the painting of 10 green art murals at schools and orphanages. It has transformed the sandy playgrounds and rickety classrooms into bright, happy spaces, adding excitement to learning.

"Art is a universal message. Creativity is in everyone and expressing your creativity is empowering. This makes environmentalism fun and [is] what we aim to do," says Greenpop MD Lauren O’Donnell.

Live music jams, talent shows, speaker evenings and dance parties give all festival participants an opportunity to express themselves.

In 2017, Greenpop and Chava Alheit Art Projects are presenting Conservation Conversation Corners in Livingstone, one of the most deforested towns in the world, and in Johannesburg, with its millions of trees.

Alheit, a Wits master’s graduate, first attended the Zambia Festival of Action in 2015 and decided to use her research in public art to build on existing green art projects.

"Art, visually and materially, translates the abstract discourse of climate change and environmental issues. Public art makes these issues more immediate and engaging, opening these issues up for the whole community, highlighting the potential to use art to facilitate environmental considerations in urban development," she says.

Upcycling: A mural at a school in Livingstone.   Picture: STRUAN DOUGLAS
Upcycling: A mural at a school in Livingstone. Picture: STRUAN DOUGLAS

With a R250,000 grant from the UN and support from Propertuity and Art Africa, three artists from Zambia and SA were chosen to create functional, community-centred public spaces that are art inspired.

Cape Town-based artist and designer Heath Nash is at the centre of the collaboration. He joined the Zambia Festival of Action in 2016, teaching local crafters upcycling — turning waste into artwork.

Nash turned to upcycling when, despite enjoying success in Tokyo and Scandinavia with paper designs, he was challenged to find an African identity. In collaboration with artists in Zimbabwe, he started working with wire and waste.

"I was given this opportunity because of an African tradition and now I can feed it back into Africa. It was forgotten," Nash says. With 20,000 plastic bottles bought every second around the world and waste continuing to pile up in landfills and street dumps, the effect of upcycling is negligible. "Zero waste is impossible. We live in such a crazy time," says Nash.

TIME IS SUCH A PRECIOUS THING, IT IS THE ONLY WAY THAT PEOPLE CAN START TO SEE EACH OTHER AND CONNECT.

"My whole focus is about time spent.... Time is such a precious thing, it is the only way that people can start to see each other and connect. And in Zambia, people give a lot of time."

Livingstone is a border town, a neighbour to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola. It was founded and built on the export of hard woods via rail. Nowadays, with the town being close to Victoria Falls and game reserves, the primary industry in Livingstone is tourism and the primary business is curios, most of which are made from hard wood.

Veteran artist, environmentalist and Greenpop’s Zambia partner, Ben Mbinge, says people have to travel for many kilometres from Livingstone to find wood for their curios, "which tells a story that we are finishing our trees".

"Waste is a resource, it is valuable," says Nash. Upcycled curios could make a real change in Livingstone, he believes.

"The curio industry follows a curious manufacturing process," says Nash.

It starts in Mukuni village where the crafts are manufactured en masse before being taken to the Mukuni Park Craft Market to be sold.

Chief Mukuni, the town’s biggest land owner, has shown an interest in upcycling. As well-established crafters such as Mutinta Katunga and Mubanga Mulenga have now become ambassadors for upcycling, there is hope the generic range of curios may embrace some innovative upcycle designs.

"The Conservation Conversation Corners aim to connect artists from the southern African region, to stimulate and develop pan-African creativity, artist mobility and exchange of ideas. The vision is a green culture environment that encourages dialogue and inclusivity and breaks down physical and disciplinary barriers," says Alheit.

The Zambian artists participating are Lusaka-based Mwamba Chikwemba, who specialises in portraits of women, and abstract paintings, and Owen Shikabeta, a self-taught scrap-metal sculptor.

Zambian rock-art enthusiast and co-ordinator Zenzele Chulu, of the Insaka International Artist Trust, an affiliate of the Zambian National Visual Arts Council, is facilitating the Livingstone leg of the collaboration.

The artists, facilitators, crafters, scholars, volunteers and participants from the Greenpop Festival are assembled daily outside a feature wall at the Livingstone Tourism Board. From cute creations such as upcycled bees buzzing around trees to plastic leaves appearing among foliage, creepers growing out of sculpted hives and other subtle suggestions of art meeting nature, the group is following the principles of design-thinking to transform the wall and surrounds into an attraction.

They will create other satellite projects in Livingstone, such as the neglected wall alongside the popular Zambezi Café. The twin project will take place in the skate park of Maboneng during Art Week, which is held in September.

The Conservation Conversation Corner invites participation and discussions on environmental issues. These are places where passers-by can be comfortable and intrigued, "and open their eyes and see things in different ways", says Nash.

He envisages the mural project "like an analogue conversation", bringing the Facebook wall concept into three dimensions.

Chulu quotes a local proverb, "imitikula mpanga", which means "this small little bush you see today will be the forest of tomorrow", to describe his excitement about the project.

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