African Voices trashy art making an international splash A_00005601.jpg
"Trashy" art making an international splash
08:06 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Cyrus Kabiru is a Kenyan self-taught sculptor and painter

He crafts artworks from found objects he collects in the streets of Nairobi

He is best known for his series of eye-catching handmade spectacles

Kabiru has been invited to speak at TED2013 conference and has shown his work around the world

CNN  — 

Ever since he was a young boy, Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru has envisaged breathing new life into his surroundings.

“When I woke up every morning, the first thing I’d see was trash,” recalls Kabiru, whose childhood home faced a garbage heap where all of Nairobi’s waste was dumped. “I used to say to my dad that when I grow up, I want to give trash a second chance.”

And that’s exactly what he went on to do.

A self-taught sculptor and painter, Kabiru is crafting visually striking artworks from abandoned refuse he collects from the streets of the Kenyan capital.

The talented artist is best known for his “C-Stunners,” a series of eye-catching handmade spectacles. In Kabiru’s hands, cast-aside bolts, wires, spoons and bottle tops gain a new lease of life as vital components of whimsical pieces of art.

Stripped of their original value, the recycled materials are transformed into steampunk, one-of-a-kind creations that transcend traditional forms and challenge stereotypes.

“I don’t see trash as waste,” says Kabiru. “I just see the trash as a chance for creativity.”

Early struggles

The resourceful artist’s fascination with glasses started at a very young age, inside the small two-bedroom house he shared with his parents and five siblings.

He wanted to have a pair of his own spectacles, but his glasses-wearing father refused to give him his or get him any new ones. Back in the 1960s, Kabiru’s father was beaten by his mother after accidentally destroying a pair of expensive glasses she’d bought him. That incident stayed with Kabiru’s father, who told his young son that if he wanted to have eyewear, he should make it himself.

Read this: 3D cartoon sees Kenya’s politicians battle like ‘Transformers

Kabiru took his father’s words to heart. Soon after, he started crafting his own frames using cutlery, plastic and any other materials he could find in his house. Uninterested in studying, Kabiru would stay up at nights to sculpt and paint; at school, he’d use his creations to barter with his classmates.

“I never did exams, I never did homework,” explains Kabiru. “I used to exchange: ‘you’ll do my homework, I’ll give you my artwork, you’ll do my exam, I’ll give you my artwork,’ so that’s how I survived in school.”

After finishing high school, Kabiru’s father wanted him to study electronic engineering, like most members of his family.

Kabiru, however, had no desire to study. His rebellious attitude, coupled with his refusal to adhere to any norms, didn’t go down well with his family or community.

“I grew up being a bad example,” says Kabiru. “Grownups used to tell their kids, ‘you need to work hard or you’ll be end up like Cyrus.’”