Cyrus Kabiru was born in Nairobi, Kenya, where he currently lives and works. His intricate sculptural works push the boundaries of conventional craftsmanship, sculpture, photography, design, and fashion. Kabiru also refers to his home in Kenya and the international countries and cities he visits.
Since his childhood, Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru has considered giving new life to his environment.
“When I woke up every morning, the first thing I saw was trash,” recalls Kabiru, whose childhood home faced a heap of garbage, where all of Nairobi’s waste was thrown. “I used to tell my dad that when I grow up, I want to give garbage a second chance. And that’s exactly what he went on to do.
Self-taught painter and sculptor, Kabiru creates visually striking works of art from abandoned debris that he collects in the Kenyan capital streets.
The talented artist is best known for his collection of glasses, the “C-stunners” series, and his self-portraits photographs, which capture him wearing his creations. Kabiru’s work deals with the imagination of the future and the transformation of modernization. The “C-Stunners” series, a series of hand-crafted shows that catches attention. In the hands of Kabiru, the screws, bolts, wires, spoons, and caps of discarded bottles take on a new life as essential components of fanciful works of art.
Scrapped of their original value, recycled materials are turned into steampunk, unique creations that transcend traditional forms and provoke stereotypes.
“I don’t see garbage as waste,” Kabiru says. “I just see garbage as an opportunity for creativity.”
The genius of the artist’s enchantment with glasses started at a young age, in a small two-bedroom house he shared with his parents and five siblings. He wanted to get a pair of his own glasses, but his father refused to give him new ones or buy him new ones. In the 1960s, Kabiru was hit by his mother after accidentally destroying an expensive pair of glasses that she bought for him. The incident stayed with Kabiru’s father, who told his son that if he wanted glasses, he should do it himself.
Kabiru took his father’s words seriously. Shortly after, he started making his own frames from silverware, plastic, and any other material he could find at home. Having no interest in studying, Kabiru stayed awake at night to sculpt and paint; at school, he used his creations to socialize with his classmates.
I see waste only as an opportunity for creativity.
Cyrus Kabiru, artist
“I never took exams, I never did my homework,” says Kabiru. “I used to exchange: ‘You will do my homework, I will give you my work, you will pass my exam, I will give you my work,’ so I survived school.”
After graduating from high school, Kabiru’s father wanted him to study electronics engineering, like most of his family. Kabiru, however, did not want to study. His rebellious attitude and refusal to play by the rules were not in the best order with his family or his community.
“I grew up as a bad example,” Kabiru says. “The adults said to their children,” You have to work hard; otherwise, you will end up like Cyrus. “
Without the support of his family, Kabiru took his artwork and moved away from home to embark on his artistic journey.
He rented a studio where, in addition to major shows, he began working on colorful and satirical paintings, as well as sculptures, all made from recycled materials collected while roaming the streets of Nairobi.
“I love nature,” says Kabiru. “I walk every day, I cannot survive without walking,” he adds. “I don’t know how to lose my job.”
Today, Kabiru’s exceptional creations and dedication to the environment have given him growing international recognition. He has been invited to speak at major events such as the TED2013 conference in California and Milan Fashion Week; his work appeared in numerous fashion shows around the world.
Closer to home, Kabiru says things are changing: his persistence and hard work have made him a “good example” for the youth in his community. Earlier this year, Kabiru’s father also visited his studio for the first time and was surprised by his son’s work.
“[It made me] very proud,” Kabiru says. “They understand me now, so I’m very happy.”
It’s a difficult journey for an artist who is softly spoken, already in his twenties. “It’s hard to be an artist in Kenya,” he admits.
But Kabiru does not want to face the struggles of the past or the problems he is currently facing. Too many Kenyan and African artists, he says, are interested in “selling poverty rather than creativity.”
“People say, ‘I grew up in a poor area of Kibera, I grew up there and there, I buy my art,” Kabiru explains.
“I want to change that, not to tell people about my problems, about poverty,” he adds. “I think it’s good to sell the creativity you’ve created, telling people that you have this place [so they can come and] buy your work and see your ideas.”
Promote the arts
When she is not creating compelling art in her studio or looking for material on the street, Kabiru visits rural communities in Kenya as part of her “Outreach” initiative, which aims to encourage creativity and raise awareness of the country’s environmental problems.
In these areas, she organizes workshops and teaches people how to create art with materials that surround them in an environmentally friendly way. He says he targets the older generations because they are the ones who can impact their communities.
“If I teach grandmothers something about deforestation or nature care, grandmothers are easier to teach their children,” she says.
And although the art of Kabiru is gaining more and more fans of all ages, both at home and abroad, there is still one older person who needs to be convinced.
“So far, my grandmother is still looking for a good job for me,” says Kabiru. “When you visit my grandmother, she asks if you work,” he adds. “If you say you work, she will ask you if you can find me additional work.”