From Trash to Treasure, Art meets Sustainability
House 33 is an environmental art gallery in Abuja, Nigeria. Beyond the gallery, however, is the vision of the Founder and Director, Ifesinachi Comedy Nwanyanwu (an Artist) to change the way Nigerians perceive and interact with the environment. Ifesinachi shares this vision with his friend and business partner, Uzodinma Iweala (an award-winning Writer, Filmmaker & Medical Doctor). With a focus on Environmental Art, both have been taking strides (…and quite successfully, too) to ‘upcycle’ waste into valuable artworks and engage the public, especially youths, on waste-to-art, environmental protection and sustainability. In this interview, Ifesinachi responds to questions from Outrepreneurs.
What inspired you and Uzo to start this project?
Both Uzo and I have shared affection towards Environmental Activism and Creativity. He’s a writer and I am an artist. So it was easy to imagine and dream alike. When Uzo moved back to Nigeria from New York, i got to meet him through his younger brother, Okechukwu, an amazing young man that I was budding with. Uzo wanted something organic, ethnic and original for his new house and Okechukwu thought it wise to get us introduced, since I was already creating art pieces that promote Environmentalism. When we met, we immediately felt each other’s energy and decided to develop a cultural space dedicated to cultural practitioners focusing on environmental art, using art and other forms of creativity to promote the discourse on environmental harmony.
How far has the project gone towards helping clean up the environment?
What we started is actually a movement, going beyond the boundaries of our gallery. We spend a lot of time and resources going to schools and teaching students environmental education. This education was not and is still not part of our curriculum [in Nigerian schools] but we took the challenge to do this, hoping that in the near future kids will be taught how to manage environmental resources and pass exams on the topic. What we do in schools with students have ripple effect, as [students] take home this new-found education to their siblings, parents and communities. While they learn how to re-purpose their waste to create something new, they also learn how to dispose waste properly. We also go to communities and engage them in clean up exercises and tree planting. In the last 12 months, we have planted over 500 trees within Abuja, and have trained over 50 women and kids on how to re-purpose the waste they generate, like plastic bottles [and] leather bags into functional items like bags, mats, shoes to earn money. What this implies is that they go round their neighborhood, picking up this waste and using them to earn a living, thereby reducing waste.
So, how is this helping the environment?
Much more than helping the environment, I think the question will be how is it helping us? The environment is like a house we live in. If the roof, for instance, is leaking, dripping on you while you sleep, you don’t help the house by patching or mending the leakage, you help yourself by fixing the house. We humans, being more superior to other creatures, are the ones to take the initiative to understand that educating ourselves and being environmental-friendly is for our good and that of generations to come. The environment breaths. It is nature. It takes care of itself. We are the ones to take care of ourselves, if we have to live in this environment in the next hundreds of years. The issue of environmental management is not rocket science. It’s just adhering to at least these three Rs: Reuse, Reduce, Recycle (…and possibly Reject).
Do you train people? If so, how many trainees do you have at present?
We do train people on a regular basis. Like I said earlier, we go to communities to train women and children especially. We also run the Maker Library Network, which is a British Council- sponsored project that encompasses these three elements into one space: a make space, a library and a gallery. What we do in Maker Library Network is to train people on a monthly basis, on different skills. Maker Library Network is operational in seven (7) countries around the world [and] House 33 and another establishment, in Lagos, are the only Maker Library Networks in Nigeria. We also offer residency programs where international and local artists come to share skills. Every Saturday, we have kids’ art sessions. Presently, we have two artists doing residency at our facility.
Who buys these artworks?
It’s a very interesting question because our art works are not like oil on canvass or the main stream art that a lot of people can relate to. What we create are more conversational than the regular art as we know them. The people that buy this work have to first relate to them, and appreciate the aesthetic presentation. We have collectors from all works of life, both from within Nigeria and outside. But then again you understand that environmental conversation are not up on the ladder in Nigeria so more people from developed societies will appreciate more than our people still grabbing to understand what you’re saying.
Have you won awards?
Yes, I won the Nigeria Dream Personality Award. Uzo has, [but] I will allow him reel them out for you.
Has there been support from agencies, organizations, government and individuals?
Yes we have had support from various organizations. We started a program last year called One Environment Hybrid. It’s a forum for environmental experts to come together and share ideas. We have the support of the Federal Government, German Embassy, Embassy of Czech Republic, European Union, French Embassy, just to mention a few. Kindly click the link to watch a 16 minute video of last year’s event at https://youtu.be/rZD4Y4c_9V0 . This year, One Environment Hybrid will partner with the EU Climate Diplomacy Week, from the 26th June to July 8th and will be hosted in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt. This year’s event will be bigger and more educational as we have more partners joining the program.
Do you have hygiene concerns in the course of your activities?
Yes we do, especially as some of our materials come from waste. Depending on what material exactly, we take good care of not being exposed to ill health. We use chlorine to wash those we can and water with detergents for others. We are very particular about hygiene and we employ best practices in what we do.
What impact in community and country?
We are simply passionate about what we do, raising awareness on environmental issue. We want to see our immediate environment well taken care of, we want to live in a society that is sustainable, we want to live in a country that formulates policies that are environmental friendly. We are not concerned about changing the world, we just want to impact one person….Could it be you?
Chiamaka Akuba25 Posts
Chiamaka Akuba is a graduate of Mass Communication of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about emerging markets and entrepreneurship and is actively working with the industry. She loves her conversations challenging and can’t help laughing when you call her ‘Honourable Writer of the Federal Republic'. Chiamaka is a Staff Writer at Outrepreneurs.