Creating beauty from scrap

SOME THINK he is crazy, mad, idle and disorderly, or that he works for the Kigali City Council garbage collection department.
Timothy Wandulu poses by one of his pieces made from scrap. (Moses Opobo)
Timothy Wandulu poses by one of his pieces made from scrap. (Moses Opobo)

SOME THINK he is crazy, mad, idle and disorderly, or that he works for the Kigali City Council garbage collection department.

And for a young man who sports dreadlocks that stand on end, and who goes about picking any piece of trash, garbage or disused material he comes across, it is only understandable that he is viewed that way.

While most artists go for wood and metal or to the bush to source materials with which to work, Timothy Wandulu chooses to look elsewhere –and should I add, where most of us would rather not look; at the garbage and litter that surrounds us, minimal as it may seem to the casual eye.

Kigali is a clean city, yes, but no place is ever too clean to need cleaning, which is the reason we see the large army of dedicated mamas in green working over-alls bending over the city’s lush green gardens and green patches.

What Wandulu does is not any different from what this green army does; perhaps the only difference is that the artist looks out for pieces of trash and scrap that he can turn into inspiring, entertaining and educative art gems.

By his own admission, his art largely revolves around scrap.

“It’s the art that I personally like. Whenever I go along the street picking discarded plastic bottles, people conclude that I’m crazy. What they do not know is that I am collecting materials for my art works, from which I earn my living, but at the same time also contributing to conservation of the environment. Instead of throwing away or burning that plastic water bottle after drinking the water, you can actually create beauty out of it,” he explains.

At the Inema Arts Center in Kacyiru, where he is based, the walls and the compound are dotted with brightly colored art pieces, paintings and murals built out of used bottles, milk sachets, tins and metals.

Most of the works bear his name and signature, and his favorite materials are plastic bottles and vessels of all shapes and sizes.

Eco art:

Wandulu describes himself as an “eco artist”, and explains what it is all about:

“It’s art that rhymes with the environment. People drop water bottles carelessly after use, yet there are garbage bins all over the town. So what I do is try to make sense out of the senseless, by treasuring what people throw away. In every piece that I do, I’m always trying to send out a particular message.”

Whenever Wandulu walks, his walk is not an ordinary one because it comes with some kind of social responsibility.

“Every time I walk on the street, I’m always looking out for what is right and what is not. Plastic water bottles and milk sachets are my main materials because it is easy to find them littered in some outskirts of the city and in slum areas. It could even be an airtime card lying by the street, but I’m always looking out for that something that’s not where it’s supposed to be.”

Every art piece he creates is dear to him, “so long as I feel that I brought out what was on my mind”.

“When my mind connects with the environment, it lights up my creativity. I’m trying to knock on people’s senses to have a sense of care for the environment that surrounds them. I think it’s one of the most satisfying things for any person to do.”

But some of the inspiration for his love for eco-art is borne out of personal circumstances.

“Here at Inema Arts Center, there was a time when we accumulated a big pile of used milk sachets and water bottles because we used not to cook, so we would depend on milk and snacks. When I looked at the heap of milk sachets, I did not view them as trash, but as building blocks from which something beautiful could be crafted. I piled and glued them together, and what came out of it looked beautiful.”

Wandulu has used wires, plastic bottles, rags, fibre, paper –any discarded piece he has chanced upon, to come up with his pieces.

Born artist:

“I have been an artist since day one, only that I didn’t know it, but whatever you do in life, you have to learn it first, even when you have the talent.”

“From a tender age, my mother always encouraged us to discover our potential using me as an example because I always had an art pencil and drawing papers sketching and illustrating stories I was told. This had everyone in our neighborhood refer to me as an Artist. My Mother encouraged me to carry on with my art, saying that I still had a lot in me to discover. ‘Son, your mind is limitless’, she always told me.”

Growing up in such an environment, the young artist developed a free mindset and attitude.

“I learnt to do what my mind tells me to, not only for my own satisfaction, but also thinking of the impact it would have on any other person and their surroundings.”

Today, Wandulu is a self-taught artist specializing in paintings, sculptures (wood, metal, stone carvings), and installations from whatever he comes across in his surroundings. He uses plastic, metal, fiber, rubber, and all that is thrown away as waste.

His life philosophy: “I don’t expect to always be understood but I expect to always understand.”

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