From the Garbage Bin to Interactive Art

By Dominic Muwanguzi


Garbage dumping is considered to be a social epidemic of post-modern times. In Uganda, one might find large deposits of litter around city centers. This is partly because there are minimal options for recycling, unlike the West where there can be a selection of options to recycle and reuse garbage.

The Garbage Collectors project seeks to solve this problem by engaging five Ugandan eco-artists — Ronex, Xenson, Helen Nabukenya, Bruno Rungazu and Sandra Suubi — to communicate to the public about garbage recycling through functional objects and/or art.

The Concept

These artists are not the first to think about garbage as material for utilitarian sculpture and instillation art. Indeed, several of them have created similar pieces in the past.

Ronex’s descriptive installations in the gardens of the Uganda Museum in April 2014 made an interactive impact.  The two towering installations measuring over seven-feet tall stood side by side inviting the public to play with them. He chose to use metal sheets and bottle tops collected from outskirts of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The installations provided welcome seating for visitors to feast on their food and drinks. According to the artist, the idea was to have the audience complete the installation by interacting with it through sitting on its exterior and dumping the plastic bottles and other refuse in its interior.  He remarked, “I want the public to interact with my work by dumping their garbage in these garbage bins.”

The element of interaction and participation was also visible in Bruno Ruganzu’s installation of the imposing Crazy Chicken draped in luminous colors. The Crazy Chicken was incomplete. Ruganzu had intended for there to be slides that would engage the audience in child-like play. In spite of this, according to the artist, hordes of guests spared no time to take ‘selfie’ pictures beside it. In this way, the chicken became a temporary monument that inspired another art genre: photography.

This spontaneous engagement is ironic because the message the artist was trying to pass on to his audience was about the potential danger of over consumption of chicken. “Many young people especially on university campus consume chicken without really knowing the negative impact this has on their health. If you look carefully at the chicken, its wearing a sarcastic look in its eyes,” he says.

Bruno Ruganzu

Lines of Interpretation

Xenson’s multi-layered metaphorical installation of a fashion mannequin with a cluster of beer cans bursting out of her belly forming a long tail of cans, illustrates the power of expressive visual attempts. More so, the beer cans -foreign in nature- expounds the idea of consumption. “It’s a mockery to consumerism and the rot that comes with it… we are living in a society that is filled with so much rot like corruption, prostitution and homosexuality.”

The fashion statement, as seen through his installation, is a commentary on the culture of keeping up appearances. “Most of these people who put on expensive suits are hiding something beneath them. They are stealing tax payers’ money; and making laws that make it hard for the average person to survive.”

Conversely, Suubi’s decorative and abstract installation conveys the message of self-belief and determination symbolized by two abstract plastic gigantic eggs. One egg has not yet hatched and the other hatched with the nestling envisioning the possibility of flying out and start a new life. This piece of work may well do as a back-drop to a performance stage, but not on city streets where it could easily be vandalized because of its abstractness.

Both Xenson and Suubi express their thought processes without necessarily being instructive. Their choice of media and technique invites attention from the public to engage and find meaning in the artists’ respective presentations.


Movement and Impact

The Garbage Collectors project exhibition will travel to the Ugandan Universities: Kyambogo and Makerere University and be at the National Theatre. This mobile component of the exhibition gives it relevance among the students because they can use it as a source of reference for their research and study, but also it can remind them of the need to dump responsibly. If successful, it will meet the brief to, “Create community awareness and sensitize the public on waste disposal.”

This collaboration between The Garbage Collectors project 2014 and Ugandan environmental artists is representative of socially conscious art. As such, it gives artists an opportunity to work with a variety of media and technique, at the same time extending their work to the public. In addition, the public is given a chance to use and interact with the creativity of artists and art.

To realize the project objectives the work needs more artists and should extend beyond museum and educational spaces. This would encourage more involvement. For example, it would be interesting if the project involved the people in city slums of Kalerwe, Nateete, Katwe and Ndeeba where there’s magnified problem of waste management.  With an abundance of refuse in the slums, what could these artists create?

The Garbage Collectors’ Exhibition 2014 was made possible by Hivos and Afrika Arts Kollective.