Each issue features in-depth articles and photography focused on a specific branch of informal creativity. In homage to Niti Bhan’s blog REculture, the first edition highlights reuse, repair and recycling of products and spaces in the informal sector. With the informal economy accounting for over three quarters of employment across Asia, Africa and Latin America, the theme seemed the perfect way to unite these growing movements on a global platform.
While those behind the hidden creativity happening across the globe wouldn’t necessarily take the time to market it as “sustainable” or “green“, on a very basic level recycling, local production and resourcefulness are inherent aspects of the process. For instance, an essay by Philippa Young titled “Seeing Through Scrap” showcases how Nairobi artist Cyrus Kabiru recycles objects around him to produce sculptures and paintings that speak of the reality of life in Africa. Best known for his series of sunglasses constructed from found objects such as spoons, bottle tops and bones, he hopes to inspire others to care for the environment and be proud of their heritage. He is part of a rising movement of African artists that have increasing visibility in the global art market.
Another example from the southern hemisphere shines through in “Reciclarte” by Maria Firmino-Castillo. The Colombia-based art collective Reciclarte utilizes wastes from landfills that were once farmland. Rather than harvesting food, members harvest trash. For three months a year in preparation for Bogota’s annual Comparsa celebration, community members band together to create floats, instruments and costumes, transforming not only trash into a colorful celebration of life but also transforming social relationships. Participants are forced to rethink the afterlife of trash and how to give it new life rather than simply letting it build up in a forgotten place.
Myles Estey also approaches the subject of trash in his “Horse and Muggy” essay. A writer, photographer and producer researching the global informal economy, Estey has seen his share of ingenuity. His current base in Mexico City allowed him to report on the evolution of the informal waste collection system fueled by horseback recyclers. Thanks to a corrupt political system, many residents would rather pay the horseback riders and have a reliable trash collection service. Not only do the riders collect trash, but they also tirelessly separate anything that has the potential to be sold to networks of recyclers for a little extra cash. Also to be considered is the fact that the horses emit far less pollution than would a huge collection truck.
Bringing the issue closer to home for many, “Steel Yard” by Julia Li offers an inspiring story about how an old steel mill in Providence, Rhode Island has been reclaimed and converted into a hub for creative minds and businesses. After $1.2 million dollars of clean up from decades of industrial activity and legislative battles, the Steel Yard now serves as a site of local production, art and education. Keeping in spirit with its industrial history, the Yard is now a center of local production with resources shared between the creative makers. Major contracts from clients such as the City of Providence are divided among the artists and produced in house with a portion revenues reinvested in maintaining the space. With many post-industrial communities suffering across the U.S., Providence’s Steel Yard serves as a promising example of how adaptive reuse can mold creative economies in unexpected places.
With contributors in over 20 countries searching for street-level ingenuity, unexpected stories will undoubtedly fill the pages of future posts and publications. The project’s initial Kickstarter goal of $15,000 has been far surpassed with donation totals exceeding $42,000. As stated on the Makeshift website, “It’s a hi-fi representation of a lo-fi movement.”
Images © Amanda Silvana Coen for Inhabitat and © Silvia Photos