Monday, May 18, 2009


Ashioke (clay and burlap) 71cm X 89cm

In Africa nothing is wasted. Cardboard, discarded planks and corrigated iron are used to make shelters: Cement bags and newspapers are used for bedding and insulation; labels from tin cans make cheerful wall paper; tin cans and wire are transformed into toys, utensils and suitcases; spark plugs are ideal for fishing sinkers and weights on caste nets.

Rope made with twisted newspaper

Nnenna Okore is an artist who has been inspired by the ingenius ways discarded materials are used in the rural areas of her native Nigeria. She celebrates these recycling practices and transforms found objects into art.

The materials she uses in her artworks include newspapers, cloth, rope, clay, sticks and wax which she twists, rolls, weaves and sews using techniques learned by watching villagers perform day to day tasks.

Nnenna was drawn to the "carefully arranged wares borne on the heads of street peddlers, and household items in the market place lined up on the termite eaten tables and pews, plant tubers assembled in huge piles as well as sacks of grain stacked six to eight feet high and four to ten feet wide."

"I was also drawn to simple sights of bare-footed children appropriating toys and hunting tools from scrap objects."

Ashoebi II (clay and burlap) 127cm X 229cm

"Of all the aspects of rural life that inspired me, the use of discarded objects and found materials in coping with poor economic conditions, had the most profound impact on me. It is reflected in the visual content and imagery of my works, which by virtue of these influences, celebrate the transformation of discarded materials into cultural objects, forms, and spaces, and bring a critical focus to bear on the consumption and recycling cultures in parts of Nigeria."

Ala Igbe (clay and burlap) 231cm X 91cm

If you are curious about these striking artworks you can see closer views of these pieces and more at Nnenna Okore's website, here and also at the October Gallery website here.


  1. Thank you for sharing those things are beautiful. If we all would recycle things into beautiful things, this world would not have waste.

  2. very beautiful, truly awesome work. what imagination and creativity it takes to create such beauty out of waste. i agree with poetic artist about recycling stuff into beautiful things so that there is less waste in this world.

  3. Yup! We have become such a "discarding" society in the rich countries. It is now almost impossible to get any domestic machine mended here in the UK - just throw it away and get a new one (labour charges make repairs uneconomical)

  4. Fascinating! India used to be like that (not wasting anything and re-using old plastic bags and bottles until they are completely worn out) and parts of it still are. It's too bad we're all so caught up in our fast-paced lives now, with less thought to how we can recycle and re-use.

  5. Robyn----you always find the greatest, most thought provoking tidbits to put on your pages! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Nnenna Okore is a great "Madame" in the world of recycling-Art.

  7. Love the fact that all materials are used and none wasted. And these pieces that you have shown as such a good examples of the beauty that is inherent in discarded objects.

  8. Amazing - not just because they recycle, but in their creative use of the materials in hand. Our culture needs to learn from Africa!

  9. Clay and burlap - who would have thought?

  10. What interesting posts since I last visited Robyn. You have a "nose" for discovering fascinating artists like Nnenna Okore. We should all be learning from Africa and other rural communities in countries that do not have our lavish lifestyle. The West must represent the pinnacle of waste. She recycles so beautifully too.

    I really enjoyed the peak into your creative life. I am in a world of my own when I am drawing. I put on some classical music and forget about everything else temporarily.

  11. Another interesting and thought provoking post Robyn. Thank you. My own elders, having lived through the great depression, were all adept at this same tactic; repair, make, make do, grow your own food, do without. There was simply no cash to buy things. People are ingenious.

  12. The textures are wonderful and the colours are so very African.

  13. Poetic Artist, Life is so rushed in modern society that I don't suppose there is much time to recycle on a big scale. I enjoy doing the little recycling that I do, but it's not really the same as having to do it to survive.

    Priya, it gives one a certain sense of achievement creating things out of discarded materials doesn't it?

    Avus, we are heading that way too. Labour charges are ridiculous.

    Anaka, many a time I wish our lives were simpler. A slower lifestyle lends itself to giving thought to our environment.

    Toni, thanks for your appreciation!

    Wim, more important than the actual recycling, she is creating awareness. Since finding her art site I've been giving it a lot of thought.

    Seth, they are so unique aren't they?

    Beverly, it's a matter of necessity being the mother of invention. I read about a rural school that had no furniture so they built chairs and desks from cardboard, newspapers and a porridge mixture. They had a few of these pieces on an exhibition and it was amazing just how strong they were.

    Heather, wonderful aren't they?

    Cathy, I hate to think what my life would be like without creativity. We're lucky we can escape when we need to.

    Jeane, wow indeed!

  14. Thank you for introducing to me the art of Nnenna Okore... her words and her art show her spirit and the spirit of your country...what a beatiful story... Roxanne

  15. I'm trying to imagine what these feel like if you picked them up. They are amazing.

  16. I have been thinking about the use of re-cycled found objects in art allot lately...and voila, here you are thoughtful Robyn, posting so beautifully once again.
    This art is wonderful and I will look into this artists world more...
    A printmaker in my group found a piece of beaten up and weathered plastic on the beach last week. He etched into it and proceeded to produce an edition of prints that were so breath taking...all with a bit of what most people would have called rubbish.
    There is allot for me to think about here, thank you Robyn this post.

  17. Sometimes artists look so far away for inspiration when often it can be found, literally, under our own feet.

    Once again, Robyn, thanks so much for sharing with us.

  18. Hi Robin,
    Just had to tell you.
    I just went from Kaapstad to Johannesburg by train on TV of course. Amaxing beautiful country.

  19. I just created a new word "amaxing" ;-)))

  20. Wim, amaxing = maximum amazement
    :-) The train must have passed through KwaZulu Natal. I'll wave next time.

  21. thank you so much for the wonderful feature & links. :)

  22. WOW! This is truly beautiful work!!

  23. Her pieces are beautiful and unrecognizable as their original states. Reading about the ingenuity of the people makes me realize how much we have and how much we take for granted by throwing away things that others make full use of.

  24. When I was little and growing up in Iceland we were the same way...we never wasted anything. When the country became prosperous waste followed. Now Iceland is going through a serious recession...all things seem to come full circle.
    This is beautiful art...thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  25. Artistic recycling. Another great post, very thought provoking.

    Jacky xox

  26. These pieces are gorgeous. I didn't realize just how huge they were until going to her site and really 'feeling' the scale of them - the textures and patterns she creates are amazing! I love work that utilizes what is at hand, recycling and reusing materials. It's one of the reasons I started out as a fiber artist - I was basically too poor to buy art supplies, but scraps of fabric could always be found, wrapping and coiling baskets from old sheets, weaving paper, wire, sticks and fibers - there was always something that could be made from "nothing"! It was an art I could afford to study in college - all others needed materials that cost too much! So you've played my heartstrings with this post Robyn - thanks!

  27. Stunning stunning and oh so inspiring!

  28. Roxanne, when you realize the size of these pieces they are even more impressive.

    Jackie, they are very unique aren't they.

    Jo, I would love to see the etchings. I wonder if your friend has a blog.....or if you will post about his work on yours.

    Michelle, glad you enjoyed the post.

    Manon, beautiful indeed!

    Stevie, so glad you're back in the blogasphere!

    Mo'a, I suppose that is usually the case when a country becomes prosperous. I notice the same thing here in South Africa and yet craftsman come into town from the rural areas selling the most ingenius artwork and toys made from scrap metal.

    Jacky, recycling does make one think twice before throwing anything away.

    Karin, the size is impressive! I've so enjoyed reading about your fiber art. It's amazing what we can create when we have to make do.

    Chrisy, glad you are inspired!

  29. amazing they are so sensual, regardless of the material... and again, that sense of posture. Anthropomorphic (that is a heavy word to carry around) (ouch my back hurts now!) :)

    hope you are well!

  30. Wow... these are absolutely breathtaking... Roxanne