KwaZulu-Natal-born artist Mbongeni Buthelezi works in an unusual medium — plastic. He repurposes the synthetic material to make art, helping to raise awareness and combat climate change. He believes that art has the power to create environmental change, and wants to use his medium to raise awareness about this very important issue.
Every part of Buthelezi’s artistic process is an intentional and a deliberate attempt to minimise pollution and find new uses for what would otherwise end up in landfills. He uses a heat gun that emits hot air to safely melt plastic waste, which he then applies on to recycled canvas. He creates striking abstract artworks, highly textured portraits and depictions of animals in hues of blue, red and violet.
Thanks to Buthelezi’s collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies, his upcycled work was showcased at COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
A series of his artworks that focus on the destructive impact of single-use plastics on our oceans was on display for those in attendance at the summit, which ran from November 6 to 20.
The 56-year-old artist, mentor and climate change activist has a wealth of experience; he’s held exhibitions, participated in festivals, led workshops and taken up artist residencies in Germany, the US, Barbados, Egypt, Australia and Saudi Arabia.
He says: “As an artist, I am the mirror of my society. I’m supposed to reflect on what is happening on the ground where I live.” He comes from a region — and a world — with a plastic waste problem. “What’s on the ground is plastic,” says Buthelezi. “I feel that we all have a responsibility to act now.”
As an artist, I am the mirror of my society