Artist Sithembiso Shangase talking about his art with curator Christine Adams. Picture: SUPPLIED
Artist Sithembiso Shangase talking about his art with curator Christine Adams. Picture: SUPPLIED

To show people that littering destroys beaches and pollutes the environment, tree sculptures have been created from the cans, bottles, packets, shopping bags and six-pack plastic holders left on Durban’s beachfront. 

Gift Dlamini is one of six artists from KwaMashu creating art from waste tree sculptures as part of the eight-week Arts for a Healthy Lifestyle Project, which will be completed soon. In a warehouse in downtown Durban, where the artists are working, Dlamini describes his work while weaving intricate patterns with plastic shopping bags to the trunk of a wirework tree.

Artist Lizeka Shezi. Picture: SUPPLIED
Artist Lizeka Shezi. Picture: SUPPLIED

“Wherever I go I see garbage everywhere, on our streets and on our beaches, and I have been thinking to myself ‘how can we reduce this?’,” he says.

Dlamini works predominantly as a painter, portraying how people live and doing portraits on commission. “When this project came up, it offered a way to spread the message that everyone has to stop throwing down their litter and start looking after nature.

“We picked up all the litter we are using for the trees from Durban’s beachfront where people go and enjoy themselves but leave a mess behind even though dustbins are right there.”

The Arts for a Healthy Lifestyle Project is co-ordinated by Durban-based Mzansi Arts Development Ensemble, which focuses on training and development in the creative industry in partnership with urban and rural communities. The litter project was made possible through a R30,000 development grant from the Arts & Culture Trust, funded by Nedbank.

The  two-metre high litter trees will be installed as a permanent exhibition in Durban’s parks. People will be invited to add their litter to the trees, to contribute to their  “growth”.

“Using rubbish to make art is a broadminded approach to show people how much rubbish we generate and that humans are destroying the environment by not caring about where they throw rubbish, which just adds to all the pollution,” says artist Lizeka Shezi while weaving a wrapping of beer six-packs to her tree-trunk cladding.

Artist Gift Dlamini. Picture: SUPPLIED
Artist Gift Dlamini. Picture: SUPPLIED

“A lot of people don’t appreciate nature because they don’t see the importance of it even though the scientists keep telling us about how the oceans and trees give us oxygen and how we need nature to survive. People are spoilt by the government because there are street cleaners. I tell people in my community not to throw dirt on the streets.”

The six artists were selected from a wide range of applicants responding to the project’s call for artists from Durban central and Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu. The group includes Dlamini, Shezi, Thembinkosi Ngobese, Sithembiso Shangase, Khulekani Mkhize and Zazi Nxumalo.

All six are from KwaMashu, which has the makings of an artistic and creative hub, with a strong culture in which older artists mentor younger talent, such as Shangase’s (58) mentoring of Shezi (26). Shangase recognised Shezi’s talent, but she could not enrol in art classes after matric because of financial difficulties.

Artist Zazi Nxumalo collecting Durban beach front litter. Picture: SUPPLIED
Artist Zazi Nxumalo collecting Durban beach front litter. Picture: SUPPLIED

“The six artists work in pairs on the trees and are learning how to do wire art,” says Christine Adams, a Michaelis School of Fine Art graduate who is curating the project. She is also creating an exhibition catalogue, working with photographer and videographer Zac Harris to document the project.

“The project is about exposing the public to art, the problem of littering and pollution, and the need for a healthy environment. The trees are suggestive of the need for the separation of materials during recycling and repurposing,” Adams explains.

The design functions in a way that it becomes an interactive art piece. As people add their litter to the trees and they grow, it visually reflects the extent of waste in communities and confronts people about their waste output. Hopefully, it will encourage people to start thinking about improving their environmental footprint.

“The project is also about exposing the talent of the participating artists, about them broadening their network, and about growing the Durban art scene. There is such capacity for the Durban art scene to grow as there are only a handful of galleries and studios in the city. We need to drum up the energy and interest to emulate the art economies of Cape Town and Joburg.”