Mbongeni Buthelezi: The South African artist turning plastic into portraits
While other artists might use watercolors or oil paints, Mbongeni Buthelezi uses waste plastics to create highly textured portraits at his studio in Booysens, Johannesburg.
His medium is the plastic litter he collects from local rubbish dumps and city streets. “Animals are dying, fish in the ocean are dying — because of this material and because of us as human beings,” Buthelezi said. “It is us that need to take responsibility.”
An artist and activist, Buthelezi, 56, first found his talent for the creative as a boy in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He sculpted clay figurines of the livestock around his village: cows, horses and goats.
“I grew up with my father’s animals, the cattle were an important part of my life,” said Buthelezi. But not everything in this rural setting was natural.
He explained that plastic litter was so common in grazing areas that it became an unwelcome part of the cows’ regular diet. “We would see these cows die because they had eaten plastics,” Buthelezi said.
Five decades on, South Africa still has a serious plastic pollution problem. In 2018, 107,000 metric tons of plastic waste from South Africa ended up in the marine environment. A 2015 study found that the country was one of the world’s top 20 contributors to marine plastic pollution.
With plastic waste growing around the world, Buthelezi is using his work to both highlight and combat the issue.
Buthelezi’s use of waste wasn’t always in defense of the environment; he first began using plastic litter for his art because he couldn’t afford more traditional mediums. At 22, when the country was still under apartheid, he enrolled in full-time classes at a community arts school in Soweto, a township in Johannesburg. He took with him just two blankets, very little money, and a lot of optimism. There he lived in a small room and worked odd jobs between classes to afford rent and food. He had no money for materials. “It was the ’80s, and South Africa was facing this transitional phase where politics was very volatile,” said Buthelezi.
SOURCE : CNN