Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | November 11, 2012
Home : Arts & Leisure
From trash to treasure
Boxes made from discarded wood.

Amitabh Sharma, Contributor

The idiom 'One man's junk is another man's treasure' fits perfectly on artists Charl Baker and Mazola Ma Mwashighadi, who are transforming discarded items into artefacts and pieces for everyday use.

What does a broken light pole, copper wires, discarded packaging material or a rusting flywheel of a bicycle mean to most of us ... junk?

Baker and Mwashighadi, like farmers sifting through mud to reap the most beautiful foliage or the sweetest smelling flowers, have managed to transform them into a photo frame, vanity boxes and a wall hanging.

"I use different kinds of wood, used in construction, I go to woodwork shops and pick up discarded wood, or pieces of metal from the garage," Mwashighadi said.

"As a child, I used to draw and sketch, and was always fascinated by baskets and rings from coloured wires," Baker recounts. "Everything can be something, things that people throw away and see no value in, we recreate."

Both artists come from different backgrounds, but are bonded by similar interests, and like their creations, have deep-rooted connection and harmony with nature.

"I have always been inspired by nature, trees - they have a story to tell," says Baker, who dropped the idea of going to medical school, gave up a corporate career and pursued her dream as an artist.

It was dull and grey in Canada, she recalls, and it was a calling of home, she says - the warm sunshine, blue skies and the liveliness, that made her come back to Jamaica.

"I spend a lot of time at the beach looking for shells and corals," Baker said. "Children, too, inspire me, I am fascinated by kids and the purity of their thoughts."

Kenyan-born Mwashighadi, brings his multicultural life experiences to his work. "I was born and brought up in a Christian home," he said. "I lived with Muslims in Mombasa, I have dreadlocks; I have friends who are Indian; I am looking at the connection, the past and present."

The two artists said that they had been influencing and helping each other but never collaborated, it was Baker's love for boxes that brought the confluence of the creative minds.

"I asked him (Mazola) to make me a box so I could put my touches to it, but what he made was ornate and it would have been a sacrilege to add something to it," said Baker.

"The dialogue and conversation between us translated literally out of a box," she quipped.

Through their conversations came the idea Out da Box, an exhibition held on October 31 at Decor VIII gallery that showcased functional artefacts made of recycled material, recreated with Baker and Mwashighadi's creative touches.

"Most of us are boxed in," Mwashighadi said, "We need to come out and look at life in a different perspective."

Twisted copper wires

Baker's love for tea and the trees is encapsulated in twisted copper wires spreading out as tree branches, decorating the boxes. "They are something of a typical Pandora's box, but do not (give) a negative connotation," she says. "Boxes are fascinating, they can be a treasure chest, vanity cases or tea boxes."

The artists' quest for recreating symbolises harmony, they say, and any oddity finds a way to be represented as a piece of functional art. "I do stuff with bottle caps; make jewellery out of them."

Mwashighadi says he is a free spirit and likes to experiment with whatever is in harmony with nature. "I do furniture, I make sculptures," he says. "I play the flute and harmonica . I am an artist and I am having fun."

Both artists say their work is a representation of the metamorphosis and harmony between humans and nature. "We continue to build and transform," Mwashighadi say. "The materials, in whatever form we can find, can become philosophical."


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