His favorite celebrities he sculptures with his recycled waste include American rapper Cardi B, award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nigerian music label founder Don Jazzy.
Nigerian artist Chibuike Ifedilichukwu’s inspiration to exploit the opportunities in waste started in 2021 when he was escorting his wife to an antenatal clinic. His foot struck a pile of dumped plastic strips. Instead of brushing it aside, he took it home and began looking at ways of turning the trash into cash.
After a year of soul-searching, he honed his childhood skill of weaving and turned plastic into art. He said when he found out no one was transforming plastic into art like he now does, he capitalized on it and invested his time and passion into it. “I wanted to find a unique way to express myself and I researched. I found that nobody does this pattern of art,” Ifedilichukwu told CNN.
Ifedilichukwu’s environmental awareness can be traced back to his childhood with his grandmother in Anambra state, Nigeria. Although he initially learned weaving at school, he has only recently started incorporating waste materials into his craft, according to CNN.
In Awka, Nigeria, Ifedilichukwu produces abstract art and portraits using various materials, including aluminum, wood, plastic, metal, copper wire, rope, bullet shells, and donated injection bottles from local hospitals.
He collects these materials from dumpsters in his neighborhood, despite the unconventional nature of his sourcing. While some may view him as eccentric, he sees it as a way to earn a living and raise awareness about environmental safety.
Following a successful dumpster diving expedition, Ifedilichukwu meticulously prepares his materials. He starts by cleaning and disinfecting the cans and plastic strips he collects. Then, he carefully cuts the ends of the cans and transforms them into strips, which he skillfully weaves together to create a canvas. On this canvas, he sketches his subject using a pen.
Ifedilichukwu employs a weaving technique where he intertwines the colorful outer sections of cans with the plain part of his canvas to craft portraits. This method draws inspiration from traditional fabric and mat weaving, known as “nka-ute” in his Igbo dialect. Each artwork he creates using this technique requires about two weeks to finish.
In the future, Ifedilichukwu intends to exclusively feature environmentally conscious celebrities in his art, such as Greta Thunberg and Leonardo DiCaprio. He has already produced a portrait of Afrobeats star Davido, who has collaborated with the conservation group WildAid.
Ifedilichukwu, a multi-talented artist and environmental advocate, has created over 40 pieces of upcycled art, gaining recognition in national and international exhibitions. His art has garnered significant attention on social media and sold for as much as $1,000 per piece. For him, true success lies at the intersection of art and a commitment to waste reduction. He envisions a community-based art gallery that promotes environmental advocacy by nurturing emerging artists.
Despite the risks, Ifedilichukwu is willing to endure physical discomfort for his craft. He has sustained injuries from sharp objects like cans, craft knives, scissors, needles, and steel wire. He views these injuries as part of his message, symbolizing the pain that waste inflicts on the environment.