artists

Artist turns discarded flip-flops from beach into masterpieces

Reuters
Artist turns discarded flip-flops from beach into masterpieces

Ivorian painter Aristide Kouame 26, who paints optical effects artworks with worn soles, washes used flip-flops at his workshop in Abidjan, Ivory Coast August 2, 2021. Picture taken August 2, 2021.

REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Ivorian artist Aristide Kouame transforms beach trash into artworks valued at up to $1,000 by transforming rubber and plastic soles to large collages

As Ivorian artist Aristide Kouame combs the beach with a big trash bag to gather discarded flip-flops and other footwear, he is aware that other beachgoers probably take him for a desperate street trader or possibly a madman.

Little do they know that Kouame, 26, transforms the flotsam into artworks valued at up to $1,000 by cutting the rubber and plastic soles into pieces that he assembles into large collages.

“This is the rubbish people have thrown into the sea and the sea brings it back to us because it doesn’t want it,” he said on a beach in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital.

“I make art from used shoes… It’s a way to give life to the objects that litter the beaches.”

Ivorian painter Aristide Kouame 26, who paints optical effects artworks with worn soles, picks up used flip-flops among the garbage on a beach in Abidjan, Ivory Coast August 2, 2021. Picture taken August 2, 2021.
REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Sitting on the floor of a narrow alley, Kouame carves shapes, letters, and faces into the rubber soles of what he has salvaged from the beach. He makes his own paint by grinding what scraps remain into piles of technicolor pigment.

His technique is both inexpensive and ecologically aware.

Plastic and other waste – including large quantities of flip-flops lost or tossed away – is strewn across most urban beaches in West Africa, as rubbish discarded into city canals is carried out to sea, then back to shore with the shifting tides.

In just a few years, Kouame’s original methods have caught the attention of Ivory Coast’s art establishment and his works have hung in galleries at home and abroad.

They range from large portraits of civil rights and political leaders such as Nelson Mandela to abstracts evoking societal ills including climate change, COVID-19, and wealth inequality.

Thinking of environment

On a recent afternoon in a chic neighbourhood in southern Abidjan, several of Kouame’s works hung in a gallery frequented by foreign art collectors.

Its director enthusiastically ushered patrons towards three large collages, each consisting of around 140 miniature portraits that Kouame carved from discarded flip-flops.

Around 13 million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the world’s oceans each year, according to the United Nations. Two of Africa’s worst culprits, Ghana and Nigeria, share the same Atlantic coastline as the beach Kouame combs for supplies.

“My goal is to get people to question the issue of their environment, in order to create a better life,” Kouame said, solemnly looking back toward the plastic faces. – Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.