A collector, a warrior and a visionary
Born in 1984 in Kenya, Cyrus Kabiru is a self -taught multi-disciplinary artist who currently lives and works in Nairobi. His artistic practice, which has changed over time, includes large scale sculptures, installations and documentary films, combining art, design, unconventional craftsmanship and fashion. In his works he is able to give new life to waste and second hand materials, here is how.
Cyrus Kabiru working at Akka Project Gallery in Venice, 2021, credits AKKA Project
The “nostalgic collector”
Cyrus Kabiru has been often described as a “collector” of Nairobi cast offs because of his cumulating and assembling activity which is the basis of his creations. In order to understand his artistic practice we have to go back to his childhood, when he used to live right next to the Nairobi dump site, as he recalls in his interviews. However he has never associated trash to something useless, as many would do, instead he has always seen “a chance for creativity”, a way to give trash a second life, working with it, recycling and transforming it through his visionary approach.
His practice is therefore truly linked to his childhood, the environment he grew up in, which had an impact not only on the choice of materials but also on the objects he creates with these materials. As a matter of fact he is best known for his C-Stunners, a series of spectacles that combine art, fashion and design. His fascination for eyeglasses traces back to his childhood when his father used to tell him that if he wanted a pair on his own he should make them.
That’s when he first started spending his time crafting and recycling everything he could find in order to create his own eyeglasses, laying the foundations of his future career as an artist. This link with the past, this sort of nostalgia, can be seen also in other Kabiru’s creations, such as the series of bicycles which is drawn from the memories of his dad’s business, when he used to help him out with cleaning and selling the bikes. Cyrus’ father had a lot of influence in the artist’s life and career “My work has everything to do with my father. First the glasses, then the bicycle. He raised me right and showed me the future. He wasn’t the kind of parent who gives you things. Besides food, clothing and shelter, the next step was you.” says Kabiru.
Similarly his series of radios were inspired by the time spent with his grandfather, the only person owning a radio in his neighborhood, showing a nostalgic connection to the humble objects he encountered in his youth.
Cyrus Kabiru, Stand Tall, 2020 credits AKKA Project
The “Afrofuturistic visionary”
Nevertheless his work is not exclusively about the past. In his spectacular artworks we can find objects collected all over the world from his journeys and artistic residencies, combining the local with the global, the past with the future, the craftsmanship with technology in his afrofuturistic creations. He perceives the great possibility hidden under leftovers, creating new narratives and new ways to see the reality. This clearly happens with his C-stunners which force the wearer to transform not only apparently but also substantially, giving them new lenses, a new filter through which to observe the reality and the future, broadening the perspective we are accustomed to.
Cyrus Kabiru, Miyale Ya Blue, 2020, credits AKKA Project
The “warrior of nature”
Kabiru’s interest in collecting rubbish and waste is only one side of the same coin. On the other side in fact there is a willingness to encourage a reflection about the environment, defining himself as a warrior of nature. While recycling materials and giving trash a second chance he feels like he’s helping the environment in his own way and he will continue to do so, not just through his art. As a matter of fact when he is not in his studio, he dedicates his time to different initiatives in the rural areas, aiming to raise awareness about ecological issues, targeting above all older generations who have a real impact on communities, as he asserts.
Part of his drive is public appearances and talks to the youngsters, by visiting schools to share his vision, promote art and creativity. He is committed to inspire young people to work hard to make their dreams come true, as he personally experienced. Becoming a well-known artist is a long process and requires a lot of hard work and dedication.
Cyrus was selected for the third edition of AKKA Project, Venice Artist Residency, from August to November 2021. During this experience he had the chance to create new points of encounter and interaction with the cultural heritage, the local and international art scene. He worked with artisans in Venice, using their material and expertise to create works that reflect both the atmosphere, culture, colors of Venice, and his particular, ironic and intriguing style. In order to foster his connection with the territory and its cultural environment Akka Project organized a diversified educational program, including visits to cultural sites of Venice and Italy. But it was an exchange in both directions, not only for the artist but also for the local community as Cyrus was invited to participate in talks, workshops with local artists, and other activities.
To know more about Cyrus Kabiru and his next projects visit the dedicated section on AKKA Project website and subscribe to our newsletter.