Innovation and community are at the heart of a new exhibition…

The Waste Not Want Not exhibition at the Shade Gallery in Brixton took two years to prepare. It is presented as “an intersection between artists, young people and peripheral providers who have silently saved our society — the bagerezi”.

This intersection comes from the hand of visual artist and owner of Shade, Tamzyn Botha (aka Limb). She traced a creative thread through the everyday and the city’s seemingly invisible art and community to make them seen and seen differently.

Artist Tamzyn Botha at the Waste Not Want Not exhibition at Shade, her art studio and gallery in Brixton, Johannesburg. (Photo: James Puttick)
Brixton Photo Collective
Members of the Brixton Photo Collective, Mpho Khosa (left) and Percy Zimuto (right), at the opening of the Waste Not Want Not exhibition at Shade in Brixton where some of their photography was on display. (Photo: James Puttick)

Botha had for years built up a library of materials. It is his collection of things that have been thrown away; things that other people have outgrown or stopped seeing as useful and things that she could see resurrected by reimagining and reorienting them.

“I’m a hoarder, but I also think about the crisis of our covered landfills and how easily we buy new things without a second thought, and throw things away just because we can replace them,” she says.

Tamzyn Botha Trash don't want
Tamzyn Botha (aka Limb), director of Shade and Waste Not Want Not, artist and curator, takes a group of children from Brixton on a tour of the exhibition. Waste Not Want Not is a multi-disciplinary project that acts as an intersection between waste pickers, artists and youth, with artists creating works from materials sourced from waste pickers around Johannesburg. (Photo: James Puttick)
Shade Youth Art Program
Children from the Shade Youth Art Program wear the costumes they created with Tamzyn Botha from recycled materials from waste pickers around Johannesburg. The young people performed in their costumes and a 3D video was created in collaboration with François Knoetze, which can be viewed through virtual reality glasses at the exhibition (Photo: James Puttick)
Exhibition Waste Not Want Not
A visitor to the Waste Not Want Not exhibition at Shade in Brixton views some of the works on display. The artworks were created using waste from waste pickers around Johannesburg. (Photo: James Puttick)

March 2020 marked one year since moving into the former suburban corner café of Caroline Street in the suburb of Joburg West. She had transformed the dilapidated century-old building into a gallery and studio. Then Covid hit and with it came lockdown and the hunger crisis.

People on the fringes who live off what society throws away had even fewer scraps to survive and fewer places to forage for food, as free movement evaporated under Tier 5 restrictions.

“Because I have a big bakkie that I use to transport my art, I volunteered with an NGO that cooked and distributed meals and basic necessities to people, many of whom were waste pickers. trash,” she said.

Waste Not Want Not artwork
Artwork for the exhibition Waste Not Want Not created by François Knoetze using materials from waste pickers around Johannesburg. (Photo: James Puttick)
Artwork by Tamzyn Botha at the Waste Not Want Not exhibition in Brixton, Johannesburg. Waste Not Want Not is a multi-disciplinary project that acts as an intersection between waste pickers, artists and youth, with artists creating works from materials sourced from waste pickers around Johannesburg. (Photo: James Puttick)
Artwork by Tamzyn Botha
Artwork by Tamzyn Botha at the Waste Not Want Not exhibition in Brixton. (Photo: James Puttick)

From his interaction with the community and through his artist’s eye, Botha has seen treasures thrown into the bagerezis’ bulging bags.

These bags are usually fixed on carts and transported through the streets of the city. Botha saw an opportunity to create a new market for waste pickers selling their salvaged products to his materials library and other artists who work with found objects.

“As we started to spread the word, we met more people and became a network. The waste pickers are surprisingly well organized because they are expert sorters who know exactly what can be recycled and what who can’t,” she says.

Artwork by Tamzyn Botha
Artwork by Tamzyn Botha at the Waste Not Want Not exhibition in Brixton. (Photo: James Puttick)

As part of the exhibit, Botha has also created a zine that includes a deep dive into typical prices that recyclables can fetch at buy-back centers. It includes everything from copper, brass and steel to different grades of plastic and paper.

“Prices fluctuate a lot. There are also a lot of non-recyclable materials that cannot be sold to buy-back centers and this is where the materials library has become a new market,” says Botha.

She can literally place “orders” too, in that supply chain. It can be as specific as old plastic dolls or x-rays or motors of small appliances. Within days, someone will arrive with something useful to sell.

Work by Mveliso Ntaba
Artwork by Mveliso Ntaba at the Waste Not Want Not exhibition in Brixton. (Photo: James Puttick)

At the same time that Botha was getting the Shade Gallery off the ground, she was being noticed by curious local children who had few leisure options in Brixton. And so a free Saturday art program began organically, says Botha. Today, about thirty children take part.

Botha, guest artists and volunteers contribute to the realization of the program. Botha also incorporated children’s artwork into the Waste Not Want Not exposure.

“It’s so they can see what they’re creating through the different lens of an art exhibit,” she says.

Botha’s decision to set up the gallery in Brixton is not without the challenges of a suburb that for decades has gone from working and middle class to being ignored and slipping through the cracks. There are hijacked homes turned into drug dens, dumping and neglect. City councilors do too little and cops look away too easily.

Artwork by Natalie Paneng
Artwork by Natalie Paneng at the Waste Not Want Not exhibition in Brixton, Johannesburg. (Photo: James Puttick)

Botha’s antidote is to be even more out on the streets and push back a community of neighbors against the slide into entropy. For the past two years she has led the annual Brixton Light Festival – a night of carnival, of art made from waste and imagination and forcing neighbors to reclaim the night.

His next push is to get the town of Joburg to reduce its red tape and inaction to finally agree to Shade’s proposal to open Brixton’s former leisure center so that its arts program and other community initiatives that have triggered by Shade can have more space and structure. It’s really needed in a neighborhood that needs more TLC, she says.

Artwork by Mpho Makutu
Artwork by Mpho Makutu at the Waste Not Want Not exhibition in Brixton, Johannesburg. Makutu used motors, electronics and other materials collected from waste pickers to create mobile “robots” for the exhibit, including this piece of waste picker pulling a load of recyclable materials up a hill. (Photo: James Puttick)

Mpho Makutu, an artist who collaborated on the exhibition as part of a sponsored residency that Botha obtained through the Goethe Institute and the British Council. Makutu, which also collaborates with the digital innovation project Wits Tshimologong in Braamfontein, mainly focuses on robotics. For the exhibition, he used recycled materials to build motorized installations. There are windmills and an ode to waste pickers among its exhibits.

“I grew up making robots out of trash, so I want these models in the exhibit to empower and motivate young people to see trash as treasure, not just something that ends up on the streets.

Artwork by Tinyiko Makwakwa
Artwork made from recycled materials by Tinyiko Makwakwa at the Waste Not Want Not exhibition in Brixton, Johannesburg. (Photo: James Puttick)

“People always say they don’t have the right materials or the right tools, but this exhibition shows that you can build with what you find. I believe that the combination of art and robotics is a way to water the skills of young people to grow,” says Makutu.

François Knoetze, a performance artist, filmmaker and sculptor based in Cape Town, has also taken up residence at Shade. His work in the exhibition includes costumes he made for a performance piece as well as a VR film centered on Brixton, bagarezi and the strangeness of fantasy in the familiarity of a suburban neighborhood of Jozi.

“I’ve worked in different spaces in the art world over the past 10 years and I’m so impressed with how Shade is a space for learning, experimentation and community.

“I was amazed at the library of materials that Tamzyn created, so I knew I wanted to archive that somehow.

“To pick up something that’s been thrown away and put it back on the street allows people to interact with the performer, people maybe see things differently and have different conversations. Something happens then; I think it’s magic,” he says.

And there is magic in the Shadows – not just when things come back from society’s trash cans, but when society is asked to stop long enough to see trash as something they may want to keep a little longer. SM/MC

Waste Not Want Not is on view until 24 April, Wednesday to Sunday, at Shade Gallery, 166 Caroline Street, Brixton.

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About Mitchel McMillan

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