DirtPol's blog posts tagged with 'rubbish'

Talking to a Dustbin by Job Mwaura

Jun

17

On my trip to UK, I took several photos of dustbins whenever I went. Then the other day, I was pondering whether animals have a soul like we humans have. It got me thinking about plants, trees, and insects. Then I began to look a little deeper, if we know that animals, plants, trees talk to each other they must have some form of consciousness, but does that mean that everything around us has a conscious awareness. I mean everything that we have in form of technology come from this earth, therefore we would say that the earth is alive with consciousness; if that is the case, then my dustbin has a consciousness, doesn’t it?

But again, a bin has no life, it just sits in the corner and I doubt many would communicate with it. We speak to our cars or motorbike on the other hand and we yell at them, praise them, and even mourned when they die. All these are just a collection of lifeless parts and only comes to life when life is in it. A dustbin is nothing but a bin full of dust.

Since lifeless parts may come to life when life is in it, I placed my hand inside my dustbin today and spoke to it a little to see if it would respond. I am not nuts, and unfortunately it did not. I wonder if a dustbin would need the same loving treatment like we do to our vehicles. What if it spat out the dust and garbage we fill it with, when it becomes annoyed? But again, does a dustbin have feelings? Below is my collection of dustbin photos.

Picture 1: A dustbin outside Bramber House, University of Sussex.

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Picture 2: Dustbins at University of Cambridge

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Picture 3: Dustbin at Clacket Lane Service Area, Tatsfield, Westerham TN16 2ER, UK

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Picture 4: Dustbin near Chichester, University of Sussex.

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Picture 5: Two dustbins below The Bridge Café, University of Sussex.

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Picture 6: Dustbin at Churchill Square Shopping Centre, Brighton.

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Picture 7: Dustbin at Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton

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 Picture 8: Dustbin at Brighton beach

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Picture 9: Dustbin at King’s Rd, Brighton, UK

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 Picture 10: Dustbin in one of the classes at Fulton, University of Sussex

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Picture 11: Dustbin at Northfield Residence, University of Sussex

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Picture 12: Dustbin at United Nations Headquarters in Africa, Nairobi Kenya

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Picture 13: Dustbin at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi Kenya.

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 These photos can tell many stories and one would have many interpretations of them. I have told my own story with these photos. 

 

About the author:  Job Mwaura is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communications.  Job is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and completed his Msc in Communication and Journalism in 2013 at Moi University.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit the DirtPol website.

GUEST POST - Scavenging in Kenya, Then and Now by Lucy James

Dec

02

 

Rubbish is a perennial problem for politics. On a practical level it requires a significant amount of coordination, organisation and expense on the part of local councils. A great deal of urban planning design in Kenya's history has been structured around the ideal of a 'clean' garden city, free from the dangers and unpleasantness of waste. But deciding "what to do" with this rubbish is not just a matter of neutral and objective schemes for town development. Decisions about waste management involve sets of political choices that are structured by hierarchies of power and influence. Who collects rubbish, where it is put, how it is organised and who is permitted to access it has effects not only on issues of public health, but land ownership, class privilege and economic livelihoods. In academic terms this can be illustrated through the Marxist concept of "urban trash"; what we do with rubbish as rooted in political, economic and historical dynamics that structure spaces designated as dumps, tips and wastelands.

 

It is therefore not just geographical spaces that are shaped by waste. For communities living in and around rubbish dumps in Nairobi, everyday life is structured by its presence. Here the worthless rubbish of others becomes both a way of making money and a source of sustenance; things that can be extracted, resold, recycled and eaten. However, the issue of 'scavenging' is problematic for authorities whose job is to draw a line between the sanitary and insanitary, and to make sure rubbish remains rubbish, out of sight and mind of affluent urban areas. In this situation, the people who pick through waste themselves become a problem that must also be 'dealt' with politically.

 

Today the problem of scavenging in Nairobi and other African cities is framed as one of basic human rights. The Dandora dump in Nairobi, which was scheduled for decommission in 2012, has come under fire for the poor management of waste which has led to severe pollution of the water, soil and air of surrounding settlements of Korogocho and Dandora . The vulnerability of those who live off the dump to disease, abuse and social exclusion has become a mobilising issue for advocacy groups who seek to see scavengers integrated in to society and employment. However, the problem of scavenging has not always been framed in such a way.

 

While I was at the Kenya National Archives the other week, I came across a very interesting file. It contained correspondence concerning scavengers at the Makupa tip in Mombasa, from the 1950s to the 1970s. The letters and telegrams showed how various authorities, including the Municipal Council, the police and social services, grappled with the question of "what to do" with African communities scavenging off the waste.

 

The significant thing about these documents is the perceptible change in the language used to describe the scavengers, as well as the proposed solutions for "dealing" with them. In early letters from the 1950s, scavengers are referred to pejoratively as "nuisance", "hindrance" and "no-goods". However by the late 1960s, the documents began to describe the groups at Makupa not in terms of the (un)desirability of their behaviour, but as identifiable individuals. Thus, a report by a social welfare assistant from 1964 draws attention to "twenty women with young girls" and a lady "who had a two week old baby on her back". A letter the Housing Department 4 years later gives a further sense of scavengers as people with identity and personal histories, for example by citing a case study of a Luo man and his young family who eked out a living on the dump.

 

The changing language around unauthorised people who lived and worked on the tip echoes the shift in thinking about how to deal with the problem of rubbish in urban spaces. The vast majority of all the letters cited concerns about the impact of scavenging on public health, given that groups were known to forage for discarded food and materials to cook for others or re-sell in Mombasa town. Initially, this was thought to warrant strict measures such as arrest and prosecution.  A letter from June 1952, for example, suggests that without strong police action it would be "impossible" to stop groups of people collecting discarded maize, wood and other materials. However, later on scavenging comes to be recognised and promoted as "a social problem" caused by poverty and destitution, and solved by measures such as the alleviation of unemployment. These later examples have a clear resonance with the framing of issue of scavenging today: as a product of social marginalisation and inequality that requires political intervention.

 

Rubbish is therefore not just a question of physical waste and city management. In historical and present day Kenya, decisions about what to do with rubbish also intersect with issues of security, social welfare and human rights in different guises. The position of scavengers within this policy space illustrates the complexity of the politics of waste disposal. For example, even when human rights agencies and local NGOs campaign for closure of dumps, a whole series of questions are thrown up about "what to do" with the people who depend on rubbish itself to live. Thinking about these issues through my research for DirtPol brings me back to a concept often used in academic discussions of sanitation and hygiene. The issue of scavenging is a perfect illustration of how the 'abject' refers not only to taboo elements of the self that has been separated off (i.e. physical waste) but also to the state of marginalised groups who live and work among these rejected elements. Dealing with rubbish is therefore as much about culture, symbolism, political power and interpersonal relations as it is about sanitation infrastructure and the lofty visions of contemporary town planning in Africa.

 

 

 

Lucy James is a graduate attaché at the British Institute in East Africa. Lucy completed her MSc in African Politics at SOAS, with a particular focus on governance and society in Lusophone Africa.

Follow her on Twitter:  @lajames1291 

For more information on our research project, please visit the DirtPol website here.

Dirt attracts ... tourists?

Mar

19

From Common Waste to Art with a Message: An Interview with Durodola Yusuf by JOHN UWA, DirtPol researcher

Apr

07

Curious about the shouts of “Oh my God!” coming from outside the DirtPol office at the University of Lagos, project researcher John Uwa decided to investigate. Outside the building on prominent display was a large portrait of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos.

The reason this work of art elicits such a strong reaction from viewers is that the portrait is composed entirely of waste materials. Using Coke bottles, sardine cans, children’s toys, shoes, electrical circuit boards, shoe polish tins, and many more discarded everyday objects, the artist Durodola Yusuf put together this remarkable portrait of the VC in 2014 for his final degree show as an undergraduate in the Department of Creative Arts at the University of Lagos.

The portrait was not the artist’s initial idea when conceiving this project, but when he found that he could not afford the materials or time for his original concept--a three-dimensional “documentation” of UniLag Senate House made from metal screws--he decided to find an “icon” to stand in for everything that the building symbolises. What better subject than the Vice-Chancellor himself? Entitled “General Overseer”, the portrait of the VC is made entirely of waste materials. Through it, the artist interprets and represents the VC’s ability to negotiate with different people across the spectrum of the University.

 DirtPol researcher John Uwa interviewed the artist about his motivation and inspiration for creating this striking work of art:

JU: What informed your choice of this picture which you have virtually made from recyclable materials?

DY: As a final year student, my original intention for a project was to document the Senate House of the University of Lagos, such that it will break a Guinness world record. This is because I thought that people leaving UniLag should do things that are quite monumental. The Senate building to me is an architectural masterpiece that I have always wanted to document using screws; but when I took consideration of the timing and the financial implication, I realised that I may not be able to meet up within the specified date for project submission.

JU: O! This is sad.

DY: So, if I am unable to document the Senate building, then I should be able to document someone who works in the building, someone who controls the building and someone who can stand as an icon. Having decided to document a picture of the Vice Chancellor, I then thought of what to do to make the picture amazing; so I decide to use the data around me. These were the basic factors which informed my choice of this image.

Besides documenting an image which represents the Senate building, the picture also illuminates a person who is in charge of the school and its affairs; and this is how I came about the title: “The General Overseer”. The general overseer is someone who oversees the affairs and activities of somewhere or others. As someone who oversees the affairs of the school, I thought that different things should be used to represent the VC as one who oversees every aspect of the school, and to reflect the title of the work. I went round the school and saw how people dump things; how they pick up, use and dump items. This became another source of inspiration.

In an academic environment where various activities like academics, security and a whole lot of things are going on, the General Overseer must be receptive, tolerant, patient and accommodative to successfully manage the institution. He must be ready to accommodate so many people and their divergent behaviours. Having conceived the idea and picture of what I wanted to do, a picture of someone who can take a lot of things, I had to start collecting materials to develop my image. I decided to use ‘dirt’--the disposable things around me, recyclable materials from trash drums. This work which is experimental involves moving round and bringing materials together; and while I was collecting materials for work, both around the art studio and elsewhere on campus, people were wondering and asking, “what do you want to do with waste materials?” This is the whole essence, bringing things together, to recreate another. If you take a look at the book over there in the portrait, it is written: “coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success”. 

So the beginning of this work is the collection of waste materials and merging them together. This involves moving around, picking up waste materials and dropping them on the project. The process of attaching the collected materials is what I have termed as keeping together, while working together is the final manifestation of the work which elicits the kind of surprises that you hear from outside your office. 

Interestingly, when I started the project, people asked all manner of questions--Why? What? Is he going to like this? But what was on my mind was to show people that with the right thinking, something can be created out of nothing; that problems can be solved through meditative thinking. So beyond what people can see, I am trying to imply, through this art work, that there may just be relevance behind that which appears to be irrelevant.

JU: That’s quite brilliant! Sometimes we sit up there in the DirtPol office and we hear people, who for the first time are catching a close glimpse of the picture, screaming--“Oh my God, Dirt!”. From what you have said, one of the symbolic implications suggested by your work is that the Vice Chancellor is an administrator who is endowed with the capacity to contend with the varying challenges of the institution. Now, do you by some chance know what the VC, or anyone close to him thinks of your artistic impression of him? Or have you had occasions where you were told by people around you that you didn’t have to do this work?

DY: Yeah, a lot of people said it. Even my supervisor said it, “Heh, in terms of art this is fantastic, this is good, but I don’t think this person will like you using junks like this to depict him”. But as an artist, one of your duties is to project and rebrand the nation. So, beyond using dirt to project the need for national rebranding, I am also using the work to pass on a message to the VC; and that is, he should be ready to take a lot of things and still remain focus.  Talking about focus, people condemned me when I first started this work, asking all manner of questions but I remained focused; and in the end, the same people returned back to sing praises of the finished work. This final acceptance of what was initially unacceptable in an achievement as far as I am concerned.

JU: You have used the word waste to describe the materials you gathered together for this work; and just now, you have also talked about the initial rejection and indifference your effort to put up this masterpiece received.  How would you want to reconcile the idea that something beautiful like this, something aesthetic, can come out of what you call waste?

DY: [Pause] I believe you can get beautiful things from waste materials. It’s about looking at it. As I said earlier, give yourself time to think what you can do. So when I looked at the materials before me, I realised that I can transform them into something acceptable. I realised that I can also inculcate African patterns and motifs, I can look at, say, Coca-Cola cans and introduce lines and motifs so that when people are having a second look at it, they won’t really be seeing waste materials but a transformation of it. People interact with the society the way they see it; immediately they are made to see these junks and dirt differently in the work, they started appreciating it. We should be able to appreciate our environment. That is when we can have peace. Rather than degrading the environment with the way we dispose waste materials, we can begin to say, “Oh, this Coca-Cola I am disposing can actually be used for something else”.  In this way, people’s minds are not only opened up, it also gives the inclination that nothing is really useless. 

JU: There is also a common sanitary clause in Lagos which says: “Keep Lagos Clean” and another one which says: “Keep UniLag Clean”. We notice that some artists are using their works to promote this message by using recycled materials to create art. Do you have that inbuilt intention when you started to put this up?

DY: Yes. Yes, because of recent, UniLag has a waste bin with three different colours. There’s red, there’s green, and there is another one. One is paper, one is can, one is plastic, and so when I’m working on the project if I need plastic, red, I go straight to that one. I think there should be exhibition where art works created from recycled materials and junks are displayed. In this way awareness will be created in people to actually see that what they call waste can actually be put into positive use; and they [the society] can begin to keep these waste items properly. People will start talking to themselves: “this thing might be useful; I shouldn’t damage it or dispose it inappropriately”. So, to an extent, this is another way of keeping the environment clean. And this is the whole idea of rebranding; not necessarily rebranding the environment, but re-branding the mind of people so that they can see waste appropriation as an aspect of environmental management system (EMS). Once they get it right, then the environment becomes free from dirt, and you don’t necessarily have to be there; in fact, you can’t be very where. A perfect example was when I was doing the project; having been well informed of what I was doing, people started picking up waste materials and dumping them at a point near my studio, even when I am not around. All I need to do is thank them, pick it up and put it into use in my work. The mechanism is simple, people saw that what I was doing is good, and without being told, they understand that the solid waste they generate, like Coca-Cola cans, are useful to my work; so rather than dispose it in the usual way, the just routinely drop it near my project work. So if people can be made to understand, if they can have a channel, they won’t dispose their waste indiscriminately. They will dispose or keep it in such a way that people who need it can come and gather it and take it away. That’s the way I’m seeing it.   

JU: Thank you so much. This beautiful edifice and your description of how you were able to put the materials together is referred to as “good housekeeping” in safety parlance- a situation where things are kept properly. Talking about keeping things properly, did you notice that people drop things indiscriminately: paper to rubber, rubber to tin while you went on collecting your materials from your selected bins?

DY: Yes, I saw some waste indiscriminately disposed. I saw papers where I am supposed to see cards; however, I must confess that the whole thing is a gradual process. You will agree with me that prior to the availability of waste bins, people have been dropping waste materials like cans and papers on the floor; but now, they are dropping in the bins, but not in a proper way. Both with time, and with the kind of job artists, like myself, are doing, orientation will change. So I say again, if you want to rebrand, you rebrand the mind, not the environment.

About the author:  John Uwa is a project researcher on the DirtPol project and is concerned primarily with issues pertaining to dirt in media and communication.  John's based in Lagos, has an MA in English Literature and speaks Yoruba, English and Pidgin.

About the project: DirtPol is an international cultural studies project based at the University of Sussex.  For more information please visit www.sussex.ac.uk/dirtpol

Follow DirtPol on Twitter: @ProjectDirtPol