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Kenyan Cyrus Kabiru’s Biennale Work Talks About Refashioning Electronic Waste

In Kochi
February 13, 2019

Cyrus Kabiru works with electronic waste and refashions them into elaborate eyeglasses. The Kenyan artist is showcasing a photographic series called ‘C-Stunners’ using discarded items such as screws, wire, spoons and crown corks.

The series of wearable eyewear sculptures at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale blurs the boundaries between art, performance, fashion and design. The works, which are on view at the main Aspinwall House venue, features a collection of sculptural eyewear, rendered through self-portrait photographs that capture him wearing his creations. “C-Stunners are about seeing the world in a different way,” says the self-taught artist. “We always see the world through plastics (normal glasses), but by using different materials. I am changing this view.”

The internationally acclaimed series extends to several media, ranging from sculptures to paintings and photographs that tell singular stories united by a shared message and meaning. The work sits between fashion, design, performance and photography in a comment on self-representation through commodity objects. According to 35-year-old, “The project captures the sensibility and attitude of the youth generation in Nairobi, where they portray culture bling, the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people, and the transformability of the everyday.”

Kabiru’s work is known for their embracing the transformative aspects of Afrofuturism. While Afrofuturism itself is not a new movement, these ‘afro-dazzled’ glasses interpret the distinct aesthetic associated with its conception — a blend of science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction. They seek to interrogate the impact of modernisation on Africa’s history and the imaginings of a future. “When I make these glasses I am ‘Cyrus, the artist’ but when I wear them I am a different person,” shares the artist who was a guest speaker at Milan Fashion Week 2013.

These are portraits not just of Kabiru. They are of also of a new generation of African artists who “demand a face-to-face engagement”, according to him. “These glasses give new perspective on reality, reminding us how much a pair of glasses can narrow or focus one’s vision, and thus determine one’s view of the world.”

The artist creates a dialogue between his own life story, the thriving African city and his travels abroad, reflecting a complex assertion of his identity and his dreams for the future. “When I was young, I used to admire real glasses but my dad never wanted me to have real glasses. That’s the reason I started making the glasses,” Kabiru says, talking about his inspiration.

Growing up in the Kibera slums of Kenya’s capital city, Kabiru confronted waste every morning. “I woke to a view of a trash pile out his bedroom window,” he says. “I really love trash. I try to give trash a second chance by transforming it into something new and beautiful.”

About his passion for upcycling electronic waste, Kabiru says electronic waste as the “most dangerous” to his continent. “We need to learn to recycle them,” he adds.