Turning waste into art - Blog

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Thursday 26th April 2018

Turtles and sharks made of scrap metal

Over Easter, our Senior Marketing Executive took a trip to Antigua and discovered an artist specialising in turning waste into stunning works of art. Here she shares her experience with us.

Redcliffe Quay

Switching off from the daily grind isn’t always easy but it’s fair to say, if you’re going to switch off anywhere, Antigua is one of the best places to start. And so it was, with London business recycling and grey weather 4,000 miles away, I wondered into Zemi Arts and Crafts on Redcliffe Quay and discovered local artist, Stephen Murphy. It didn’t take long to realise that Stephen enjoys turning waste into art. But there were some pieces you would never have guessed had been found lying on a beach, discarded or lost by a previous owner.

As you walk in to Zemi, it's hard to know where to look first

Born just down the road, Stephen has lived around the world and returned to Antigua in 2005 (and who can blame him?). A self-taught artist, his work has been shown throughout Canada and the Caribbean over the past 20 years, winning numerous awards. Since returning to Antigua, Stephen has taken inspiration from the art of the aboriginal people of the Caribbean, known as the Carib or Taíno Indians. The gallery I visited opened in 2009 and is called Zemi, the Taíno word for god or good luck spirit. Stephen also has a collection of watercolours under the name “Wadadli Watercolours”, Wadadli being the indigenous Carib Indian name given to the island before Columbus.

Stephen's desk is a riot of colour and materials

As I walked around absorbing the colours and textures, the phrase “One man’s waste” has never seemed truer. Ordinarily, a quiet tourist who would look around, perhaps get a souvenir and then leave with a “thank you”, I couldn’t resist asking the man in the corner if he was the infamous “Stephen” whose works adorned the walls. His passion for the environment and Antiguan culture was infectious. He explained he has a team of beach combers who he pays. Word spreads about the materials he currently needs and within a few weeks he will have sacks worth of material for his next project. When I was there, he was busy putting the word out for loofahs. Perhaps more familiar to us from the bathing section in Boots, the loofah is a member of the cucumber family and is commonly washed up on shore. The dried out, spongy textures of which are great for art as well as exfoliating.

A seahorse made of an old vinyl record and a painting of an old sugar mill

Some examples of the materials being used include CD’s turned into fish or circular images. The surface is painted and covered in resin to secure the image. There were bracelets made of telephone cords, key rings of bottle tops, scrap metal of just about any marine creature imaginable and drift wood sculptures. In the spirit of not letting things go to waste, the drop sheet from the studio (the sheet protecting the floor from paint and resin) was also turned into a piece of art.

A bracelet made using old telephone cords

As a country, Antigua is proud of its environment. The interpretation centre looks back at the islands history, from hunters, the British military and the struggle against slavery. Through this story, you truly understand why Antiguans are so keen to look after their surrounding environment. Culturally, environmental awareness and care is seen not as a chore or “something they have to do” but as a team effort to maintain their islands beauty. As an example, the hotel buffets offer left overs for lunch. So, if you missed out on dinner the night before, you’ll get a second chance the next day!

It's not hard to see why Antiguans are so proud of their environment and are keen to preserve it

Closer to home, a local school have made some wonderful creations out of plastic waste to raise awareness about single-use plastics amongst pupils and staff. Find out more...

Fish made out of scrap metal and old CD's

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