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Eco-art: Everything you need to know

The art world is witnessing a growing trend–eco-art, where creativity meets environmental consciousness. This art form transcends aesthetics, utilizing recycled materials, site-specific installations, and nature itself as a canvas to deliver messages about conservation and the delicate balance between humanity and the environment.


                New World Map 2009, installed at "La Terra Inquieta / The Restless Earth / El Anatsui
New World Map 2009, installed at "La Terra Inquieta / The Restless Earth / El Anatsui

Eco-art's origins can be traced back to the 1960s and 70s, coinciding with the rise of environmental concerns. Artists began to explore the relationship between humanity and the natural world, with a growing focus on the impact of human activity on ecosystems.  This artistic movement emphasizes the importance of sustainable practices throughout the creative process while using found objects, recycled materials, and organic, non-toxic substances in their work. By focusing on recycled or discarded materials, artists minimize their environmental footprint and operational costs. 


Africa with its rich biodiversity and complex environmental challenges, has become a fertile ground for eco-art.  Many African artists are employing eco-art to address issues of deforestation, pollution, and climate change.  These artists are not merely creating art about the environment; they are actively using art to advocate for a sustainable future for their communities and the continent.


African Voices: Eco-Art Champions


The African continent boasts a vibrant eco-art scene. Many African artists are employing their creativity to address pressing environmental concerns. The impact of eco-art from the continent of africa extends far beyond gallery walls. These artists are fostering a spirit of collaboration, working with communities to implement sustainable practices and empower them to become stewards of their environment. Their work spark dialogue, prompting policymakers to enact legislation that protects the continent's natural treasures.


Nigerian artist, Nnenna Okore, uses materials like old newspapers and leftover fabric to create amazing installations. Her art shows how beautiful natural things can be and makes you think about how much waste we make.


I am here but I am not here – presence, absence / Ifeoma U. Anyaeji
I am here but I am not here – presence, absence / Ifeoma U. Anyaeji

Ghanaina artist, Serge Attukwei Clottey, started the "Afrogallonism" movement. He takes bright yellow plastic jugs used to carry water and turns them into eye-catching sculptures. These jugs are everywhere across Africa, and his art highlights the fundamental issues with plastic waste across the continent. Similarly, Kenyan artist, Cyrus Kabiru, makes wearable art, like sunglasses, out of discarded electronics! His "C-Stunners" are super cool and show how we can reuse several materials instead of just throwing them away.


An installation of Serge Attkwei Clottey’s work using repurposed materials which he refers to as “Afrogallonism.” Image courtesy of Simchowitz Gallery
An installation of Serge Attkwei Clottey’s work using repurposed materials which he refers to as “Afrogallonism.” Image courtesy of Simchowitz Gallery


Imagine shimmering tapestries, not woven from silk or wool, but from thousands of discarded bottle caps. This is the art of El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor who breathes new life into everyday waste. His colossal works, meticulously stitched together, transform these humble discards into dazzling wall hangings. Each shimmering piece is a powerful commentary, a story whispered on the wind about consumerism, the ever-growing mountain of waste we produce, and the potential for transformation.


Across the continent, in Nigeria, Peju Alatise, a versatile multimedia artist, wields her creative arsenal to tackle pressing environmental issues. Through captivating installations, thought-provoking sculptures, and powerful paintings, she compels viewers to confront the harsh realities of environmental degradation, deforestation, and the ruthless exploitation of natural resources. Her art is a clarion call, urging us to acknowledge the challenges facing our planet and take action.


This is just the opening act of a vibrant story, that has Ifeoma Anyaeji, another Nigerian artist who defies convention. Anyaeji weaves intricate sculptures, not from traditional materials, but from the very plastic waste that chokes our environment – plastic bags and bottles. Her works testify to sustainability, proving that art can be both aesthetically captivating and environmentally responsible.


Exhibition view: Barthélémy Toguo, Water is a Right, Galerie Lelong & Co., Avenue Matignon, Paris Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris.
Exhibition view: Barthélémy Toguo, Water is a Right, Galerie Lelong & Co., Avenue Matignon, Paris Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris.


Not too far away from Nigeria's Anyaeji is Barthélémy Toguo, a Cameroonian artist, who takes a different approach, one that embraces the inherent beauty and sustainability of natural materials. His sculptures and paintings, crafted from wood and imbued with natural dyes, serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of preserving our environment and respecting the delicate balance of the natural world.


And from South Africa comes Mbongeni Buthelezi, an artist who has developed a unique technique for painting with melted plastic bags. By transforming this pervasive pollutant into striking works of art, Buthelezi not only creates visually arresting pieces, but also actively contributes to reducing plastic pollution.


African eco-art combines diverse perspectives, innovative techniques, and a shared passion for our planet. It's a movement that compels us to see the world anew, to appreciate the beauty in unexpected places, and to take responsibility for the future of our environment.


The Art Market and Eco-Art's Potential

Algoma, 2016. Plastic and raffia, 50 x 40 x 20 cm/Romuald Hazoume
Algoma, 2016. Plastic and raffia, 50 x 40 x 20 cm/Romuald Hazoume


The art market is increasingly recognizing the value of eco-art.  Artworks that promote sustainability can fetch premium prices from environmentally conscious collectors.  This creates a financial incentive for artists to explore eco-art themes, further propelling the movement forward.


Eco-art serves as a powerful communication tool, engaging audiences in environmental issues and potentially driving policy changes and sustainable practices.  Additionally, the use of recycled materials reduces production costs associated with traditional art forms, creating a more economically accessible artistic medium.



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Eco-art: Everything you need to know

June 14, 2024

Obidike Okafor

3 min read

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