Recycling Trash into Art

Standing along the highway just outside Newlands Shopping Centre, Joseph Chiyambukira displays his wares for passersby to peruse and purchase at their leisure. For as long as he can remember Mr. Chiyambukira’s father Chiyambukira Takawira has been making handicrafts for sale at this market.

Recycling Trash into Art
HARARE, ZIMBABWE —Joseph Chiyambukira sits beside an assortment of handicrafts he makes and sells alongside the highway that leads to the Northern Suburbs neighborhood in Zimbabwe’s capital. Like many artists who produce traditional crafts, Joseph learned this trade from his father. Photo by Joseph Kashaya

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HARARE, ZIMBABWE — The sun overhead is hot but Joseph Chiyambukira’s face is well shaded by his yellow baseball cap. Growing up in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, Joseph has been learning to make different handicrafts under his father’s guidance since he was a young boy. It was his father’s example that inspired him to open this shop. As the old proverb says "The apple does not fall far from the tree." Clearly this is true in Joseph’s case.

Now nearly 21 years old Chiyambukira Joseph is pursuing Arts and Craft Work as a career, although he does not have any Art School qualification.

While concentrating hard on his next project, wrapping a tire in palm leaves, Joseph says, "I noticed that l was not academically smart but l told myself that it was not the end of the road, so l decided to follow my father's footsteps."

Joseph uses natural materials like palm tree leaves, which are named 'murara' in Shona, a language from the Bantu family spoken by most of Zimbabwe, to make baskets, tables, chairs, lamp shades and many other kinds of household furniture.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Joseph Chiyambukira’s shop includes a wide variety of household crafts, all made by his own hand. Although unemployment remains high, Zimbabweans like Joseph have managed to make a living by taking initiative and starting their own businesses, while also keeping traditional handicrafts alive. Photo by Joseph Kashaya

In 2019, when Joseph Chiyambukira was only 17 years old, he took over his father’s shop at Newlands Shopping Centre, where his family had a booming business based on the location. The spot is very active due to the heavy traffic passing by or going to and from the shopping centre and is located along the highway that leads to the Northern Suburbs of Harare.

"Following the current unemployment rate in Zimbabwe, l saw an opportunity and l chose to stay and explore."

The Zimbabwe Unemployment Rate is projected to trend around 5.50 percent in 2023 and 5.60 percent in 2024, according to economic models provided by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT).

Arts and Craft Work is an industry where unorthodox, exciting and cutting edge designs are constantly generated. Creativity, Drive and Energy are the blood components.

This week Joseph weaved a table made out of different materials, including car tires for the frame and palm tree leaves, or 'murara,' as the coating material.

Designed with the pattern of a bird's nest, to Joseph the design represents growth whether positive or negative.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Joseph Chiyambukira wraps an old tire in palm tree leaves, known as murara in the local Shona language. Mr. Msipa uses a variety of materials and methods to transform mundane, mostly found or recycled materials into household objects and furniture that sport intriguing designs. Photo by Joseph Kashaya

Joseph also mentioned that he has crafted different artworks for a number of prominent people, the identities of some he can not disclose.

"A lot of prominent people, including celebrities often come by my workplace, placing orders for different furnitures." Mr. Chiyambukira explained.

According to Mr. Chiyambukira sometimes these high profile people share with him what happens to his furniture. There was one customer who owns a restaurant that requested several lampshades made from palm leaves. “I was astonished,” Mr Chyambukira said, referring to how he felt when the customer asked him to visit the restaurant and see how his handicraft looked on display.

Joseph Chiyambukira also says he is very humbled that prominent people visit his place of work as well as people from the media space as this raises his hope that his artworks will travel across the local borders to new and different audiences.

As for the imaginative collaborations and pushing the bounds of art creativity Joseph seems to be relentless and destined for greatness.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Joseph Chiyambukira sets out his wares, preparing for a long day outside the Newlands Shopping Centre. Mr. Chiyambukira has been in charge of selling his crafts from this space since he inherited it from his father in 2019, when he was just 17 years old. Photo by Joseph Kashaya