The Anthropocene is the skeleton in the closet of 21st-century imagination. The consequences of more than a century of hyper-consumerism are everywhere apparent, inescapable, part of the environment and the air we breathe. The byproducts of human life and their relics—industrial and domestic—resolve themselves into cascades, rivers, mountains, mother lodes of trash. Both concrete and metaphorical, the omnipresence and profound indestructibility of trash is the source of an anxiety that cannot be appeased or wished away.
Art made from trash has become emblematic of this century’s catastrophic descent, as significant as Cubism was to the 20th century. The use of detritus as studio material originates in an act of transference or conversion and results in an object that is of rubbish but is not, a something that remains ordinary and everyday but also exists in another category—the thing that has value, both art-thing and artifact.
Moffat Takadiwa, who is from Harare, Zimbabwe, creates complex assemblages based on the agglomeration of hundreds and often thousands of discrete pieces of discarded household and industrial waste. He has said of his choice of materials: “I want to start a dialogue around colonial residue in Africa and how it is causing a lot of challenges in contemporary Africa and in Zimbabwe particularly.” The majority of Takadiwa’s work deploys a tapestry-like format. No photograph can do his wall-mounted works justice—it’s impossible to reproduce the flicker of light on the surfaces, the transparency of the plastics, the odd shock caused by comprehending the intense labor necessary to bring them into being. Beyond their obvious beauty, his works are records of economic, historical, and social currents and interconnections. Beneath the hypnotic, undulating, colorful surfaces, Takadiwa’s tapestries reveal and conceal the vast dumping grounds that cripple Zimbabwe’s local businesses and destroy the land. As he explains, “I believe the fabricated tapestries give us a paradox and a contrast between necessities and vanities in everyday households and highlight the confusing thin line between access and poverty.”
Carefully sorted by color and texture, the varieties of trash that Takadiwa employs include toothbrush heads, computer keys, toothpaste tubes, bottle caps, clear perfume lids, fishing line, and zip ties. Making the work requires a systematic process of collection and fabrication; Takadiwa has about 30 collaborators who scour public dumps and six to seven studio assistants to help assemble his pieces. The ludicrously diverse, recycled and repurposed materials are drilled, glued, and threaded together in spirals, grids, and crisscross patterns—infinite looping and twining systems anchored to fishing net. The tapestries present a kind of topography, their whorls and ridges suggestive of roads, fields, and parcels of land. This reading mirrors Takadiwa’s intent—his linkage of land and language is key to understanding his multifaceted works. Only at the simplest level is his project about recycling and environmental threat—at its core, it is a critique of colonialism and an approach to reconstructing cultural identity.