Mbongeni Buthelezi is using his art form to help raise awareness around the importance of recycling and saving the environment. He combines his artistic passion with a love for recycling and created a completely new art form in which he melts plastic onto canvas.
Growing amounts of plastic waste is one of the world’s biggest challenges today. Despite its harm on the atmosphere, plastic-production is increasing. The sector continues to provide economic growth and job opportunities in many countries, but at the cost of the environment.
However increased efforts to fight climate change has lead to more measures around reducing pollution. Recycling has become a key component of these measures. South African-born Mbongeni Buthelezi, known as the “artist who paints with plastic” is adding his voice to this important issue.
‘‘To simply describe my work, I would say its plastic collage. I use plastic as a form of paint in my work without melting it. I soften it and stick it onto another type of plastic to work with. It’s about melting, but not changing the form into a different solution,he said.”
It’s a unique style of heating colorful plastics to create portraits. Each art piece can contain over 5000 pieces of plastic. This technique has never been explored before
“It is extremely difficult. That is why it took 26 years for me to get to the level to where I am now. I started experimenting with plastics way back in 1991, when things were not so easy for me to access your traditional materials like oil paints and watercolors, so the easiest was for me to walk around and use what I can find.”
It is estimated that there are eight million tons of waste in the sea‚ 40% of which was originally dumped on land. Fighting the rising tide of plastic pollution will take a long-term sustainable solution to overcome. Joining the cause here on African soil has become more apparent than history reveals.
“This is just my contribution. Instead of letting plastics fly around everywhere, the best I can possibly do is to collect it, and make sure I create something out of it. We all need the environment in a state that would be conducive to all of us, he said.”
In his recent exhibition titled Sugar Tax, Buthelezi used plastic soda bottles and caps to highlight health issues around excessive sugar intake and related disease like obesity and diabetes.
He noted that ‘‘the whole idea of the exhibition was not to criticize anyone, it was just to open a dialogue. If Sugar is not properly monitored with the environment, these two things could be dangerous. Perhaps we need to start talking about is Taxing sugar the best way to go about or what can possible be done to make people aware of what is too much.”
This unexplored art form soon drew the attention of galleries and art critiques across the country. Internationally too, Mbongeni has exhibited his unique, socially-provoked artwork overseas, gracing numerous private and public collections.
Buthelezi’s recent solo exhibition called Sugar Tax, depicts a human dependency on plastic. He draws the use of plastics and sugar in our lives, and how damaging both can be if not monitored and used in moderation.
Being one of the only artists to experiment with plastics, Mbongeni has become a pioneer and global icon in the industry. Over the years his art has received many accolades. But its taken a long time to get here. Mbongeni recalls his early years as a struggling artist, who could not make ends meet. Now that he’s an accomplished artist, he feels it’s important that his art has purpose.
Mbongeni’s new work titled “Captured” includes the use of fences, gates, locks and plastic, depicting how South Africans need to make choices to better their future and current circumstances. As art teaches you, he stands by his work being open to different interpretations.