Guggenheim

Introduction

Cyrus Kabiru
Caribbean Sun (from C-Stunners), 2012
Chromogenic print, 150 x 100 cm
© Carl de Sauza/AFP/Getty Images

“The place where I grew up faced the Nairobi dump site. All the trash, all the waste of Nairobi, used to be dumped in my neighborhood. So whenever I woke up, the first thing I saw was garbage. I used to tell my dad I would like to give trash a second chance. I would like to work with trash. And that’s why, up to now, that’s what I’ve done.” —Cyrus Kabiru(1)

 

INTRODUCTION

Cyrus Kabiru (b. 1985, Nairobi, Kenya) is an emerging, self-taught painter and sculptor who lives and practices in Nairobi, Kenya. His artworks often portray his country in a humorous manner. Kabiru adopts the role of an observer, an explorer using his paintings and sculptures as the output for his experiences.(2) He is best known for his pieces made from recycled material and found objects. Collecting Nairobi cast offs found in his surroundings—discarded objects such as screws, wire, spoons, and crown corks—Kabiru assembles them anew. Giving these objects a second chance, Kabiru harnesses the transformative power of renovation and reuse, advocating trash as a material that can form the basis for creative work.(3)

Kabiru creates what he calls C-Stunners, a series of wearable eyewear sculptures that defies boundaries between art, performance, fashion, and design. Each C-Stunner tells a singular story and shares a message and a meaning. He transforms recycled materials into steampunk, one-of-a-kind artistic bifocals that transcend traditional forms and challenge stereotypes.(4)

Kabiru has been creating his spectacles since childhood: first as toys for himself and later for his classmates as a way of trading his way through schoolwork. His passion for glasses comes from his father’s aversion. As a child, his father was severely punished for breaking a pair of glasses that his parents bought with a lot of effort and sacrifices. When Kabiru was about seven years old and playing with his father’s glasses, his dad said, “Cyrus, if you want to wear the glasses, maybe make your own glasses.”(5) Since that moment, the young boy embarked on what would become his lifetime passion and mission: to create eyewear out of found material. His father, bemused by the creation of toy glasses, became an unwitting curator, decreeing that his son should only make glasses when there is a reason or a story behind them.(6) By recreating again and again the object of his father’s pain, and his grandparents’ hope, Kabiru began to create a body of work that would have symbolic significance well beyond his own family story, ultimately becoming a metaphor for the power of creative transformation both within Africa and worldwide.(7)

 

1. http://blog.ted.com/no-art-no-life-fellows-friday-with-cyrus-kabiru/

2. http://cyruskabiruart.tumblr.com/

3. http://makingafrica.net/2015/03/cyrus-kabiru-c-stunners/

4. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/23/world/africa/cyrus-kabiru-glasses-kenya/index.html

5. http://blog.ted.com/no-art-no-life-fellows-friday-with-cyrus-kabiru/

6. http://xlablog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/ted-fellow-cyrus-kabiru-c-stunners-art.html

7. Ibid.

Questions

Show: Caribbean Sun (2012)

Look closely at Kabiru’s glasses. Why do you think Kabiru chose the title Caribbean Sun? What title would you give this artwork? Why?

How do you think it would feel to wear these glasses? Where would you go with them? Why?

Describe the materials that you think Kabiru is using. If you were searching for similar materials, where would you look?

Do you think Kabiru has created Caribbean Sun mainly to be worn or to be displayed as art? Explain your answer.

Each C-Stunner tells its own story and shares a message and a meaning. What message or meaning do you think Caribbean Sun is telling? Write a paragraph to share your ideas.

Kabiru said, “C-Stunners have a certain energy and playfulness that really captures the sensibility and attitude of a youth generation in Nairobi. They portray the aspiration of popular culture bling; they reflect the ingenuity and resourcefulness of people; the lenses provide a new filter giving a fresh perspective onto the world that we live in, transforming the wearer not only in appearance but in mind frame as well.”(8) What do you think about his statement? What object from your culture would you select as having similar attributes? Explain.

 

8. http://cyruskabiruart.tumblr.com/

Activities

Create your own C-Stunners

Have students collect different materials to reuse and bring them to school along with an inexpensive pair of glasses. Provide additional materials, such as wire, pipe cleaners, pliers, scissors, white glue, and cardboard, to experiment in class. Encourage them to share their materials with classmates to create their own C-Stunners. Ask them to think of a story they would like to share through their glasses and write it. When they are finished, create an exhibition of all the C-Stunners. Ask students to write a wall label listing all the materials they used and an explanation of the various choices they made.

Students can see other C-Stunners created by Kabiru for inspiration. Search “C-Stunners, Kabiru” in Google Images or check out the galleries that represent his work: http://www.ckabiruart.daportfolio.com/http://www.edcrossfineart.com/artists/cyrus-kabiru/http://www.edcrossfineart.com/artists/cyrus-kabiru/

 

E-waste research and ideas

With his artwork Kabiru addresses the issue of waste and reuse. He is especially worried about e-waste since it may cause serious health and pollution problems. Certain components of some electronic products contain materials that render them hazardous, depending on their condition and density. Often, these materials are not properly recycled or reused and the toxic chemicals can leach into the land over time or are released into the atmosphere, impacting nearby communities and the environment.

Watch a short video with your students, Making Wearables from E-Waste, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv–ezAQOrY. Share impressions with your class.

Research e-waste. What can we do to stop the problem of accumulating electronics? If you could create your own project based on e-waste, what would you do? Have students create and give a presentation of their research to the class.

 

Further explorations

In addition to C-Stunners, Kabiru is focusing on two connected projects: a series that depicts African nature using thousands of bottle caps sewn together, and a project called Outreach, where he travels around Kenya to different, sometimes rural places, showing the older generation of a community how to work with the materials they have. In both projects Kabiru collaborates with people from his community. Explore his Facebook page, where he keeps up-to-date information about his work, to learn more about these new projects: www.facebook.com/pages/Cyrus-Kabiru-Art/.

 

VOCABULARY

E-waste: Discarded electrical or electronic devices nearing the end of their “useful life.” These used electronics, which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal by informal processing in developing countries, may cause serious health and pollution problems, as these countries have limited regulatory oversight of e-waste processing.

Performance: Art forms in which artists use their voices and/or the movements of their bodies, often in relation to other objects, to convey artistic expression.

Steampunk: A subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by nineteenth-century industrial steam-powered machinery.

 

RESOURCES

CNN interview, “Artist’s Spectacular Glasses ‘Give Trash a Second Chance.’”
http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/23/world/africa/cyrus-kabiru-glasses-kenya/index.html

Cyrus Kabiru’s Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cyrus-Kabiru-Art/

Young World Inventors, Cyrus Kabiru’s Treasures from Trash.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aehMbwuw3nA

Cyrus Kabiru’s Tumblr
http://cyruskabiruart.tumblr.com

Cyrus Kabiru and the C-Stunners
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wffeRIVBgQ

Vitra Design Museum’s Making Africa exhibition
http://makingafrica.net