Bottle tops are the paint in this artist's eco-murals
Olufunke Ojukwu's art encourages people to rethink about their relationship with waste and have conversations about sustainability
By Humphrey Njoku, bird story agency
The TOPAS hub In the bustling neighbourhood of Surulere in Lagos is one of a wave of tech hubs opening across Africa and the energy and bustle in the co-working spaces and tech companies is similar to many others in Nigeria's biggest city - home to over 400 startups. But other tech hubs don't have the works of Olufunke Ojukwu to inspire and encourage an environmental focus amongst the hub's startups.
"During this space's design and decoration process, our goal was to create a memorable experience for every visitor and encourage them to be mindful of our ecosystem and environment. We aimed to encourage responsible waste disposal and remind everyone to do their part in preserving our planet," said Lola Olukuewu, the CEO and founder of TOPAS.
To achieve her goal, she reached out to Olufunke Esekhalu Ojukwu, an artist specialising in creating art from recycled materials.
Born in 1981 and raised in Lagos State, the artist and mother of three has spent years using her art to help keep the environment clean.
"I am actually a painter, trained at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. By doing this unique art, I show another side of what I do. I intend to explore this art further by using bottle covers of drinks to produce art," Ojukwu said.
"I see the discarded bottle covers simply as pure art material... It gives multiple colours and has given my signature sort of uniqueness only peculiar to me. The colours of discarded plastic bottle covers make my art appear like a mosaic."
According to art researcher and curator, Oludamola Adebowale, Okujwu's art is not only unique, it also offers a transformative experience for the viewer.
"This is the magic of art in general - it transforms and enlightens us. When you look at a piece of art, you can see various interpretations.," he said.
"The process of creating her artwork is not as simple as it may seem. It requires a lot of effort and time. She begins by collecting materials from the waste centre, carefully selecting each item. Then she washes and dries them, which is quite a process. However, at the end of the day, it's amazing to see the beauty that comes out of what was once considered rubbish," he said of Okujwu's work.
The TOPAS CEO concurred.
"Every time people see them, they always have this excitement written on their faces," she said.
"Seeing how people's demeanour changes when they come across some of her works is fantastic. Even the most serious-looking individuals light up when they spot it and start asking questions. 'Are those bottle tops? Let me have a closer look. Can I touch it? Can I take a picture with it?' It has become one of the most captivating pieces we use to break the ice during our client tours."
Ojukwu, who took years to develop the technique she uses, is unaware of anyone else working with discarded plastic materials in quite the same way as her.
"To create my works, I carefully assemble and string together the bottle covers. Through techniques such as coupling, joining, and welding, I can achieve the desired outcome."
"It's not as if I had seen anyone using discarded bottle covers to create artwork in the same manner I do it now, so the inspiration is mine," she said.
The artist's pieces typically sell for around 500,000 Nigerian Naira (637 USD) and are purchased at exhibitions, festivals, and through art collectors.
Her goal is to become a household name both within and outside of Nigeria, and she sees this as the ultimate sign of success.
"I want my art to be projected worldwide not just the bottle covers but the name – Olufunke Esekhalu."
"I take pride in using recycled materials, such as discarded bottle plastic covers and pure water sachets, because it helps to maintain a clean and safe environment," the artist concluded.
bird story agency