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Artists of Kinshasa don trash in activist eco-event

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Performers wearing cans, tubes, mirrors and other materials salvaged from rubbish bins parade through the streets of Kinshasa, for the fifth edition of the KinAct festival, which aims to raise environmental awareness as well as celebrate art. AFP

Artists of Kinshasa don trash in activist eco-event

Performance artists decked out in cans, inner tubes, mirrors and discarded CDs parade through the streets of Kinshasa to bring art to the masses and highlight the Congolese capital’s chronic rubbish problem.

The catwalk performers sashay through dusty, rubbish-strewn streets clogged with traffic in the working-class neighbourhood of Makala in the sprawling mega city.

Eddy Ekete, 43-year-old visual artist, set up the KinAct festival to highlight the environmental hazards of rubbish. After last year’s event was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, artists on Saturday brought the latest edition to a triumphant close.

“We want to bring the arts to the streets, to the residents, to the market,” says Ekete, famous for his elaborate costumes made up of hundreds of empty soda cans.

Built like a basketball player, the towering Ekete made his first costume 13 or 14 years ago. He cut an impressive figure for the final procession.

“Kinshasa is dirty, very dirty, and has been for a long time,” agrees fellow visual artist Patrick Kitete.

His art is made with “broken mirrors”, Kitete says, “because Africa is broken”.

The festival, he says, raises crucial questions “on what we do with this waste”.

Kitete wore a helmet and brandished machetes with his “warrior mirror” outfit.

Cries of admiration greeted two “mirror men” when they emerged from the courtyard of a home. Children are scared by a man dressed in coconut fibres but laugh at feathered chick costumes.

Onlookers gather around the performers, laughing and singing along to music played on instruments fashioned out of rubbish, including a drum kit of plastic cans and pan lids, and a xylophone made from a motorcycle fuel tank.

“It’s a really good thing,” says spectator Vanza Veluswamina.

“It also allows us to bring a bit of integrity to the city, because we see how bags pollute the city, these non-degradable objects that destroy the soil.”

The KinAct team has high hopes for next year. In the meantime, the costumes are on display at a cultural centre in Matonge, another working-class neighbourhood of Kinshasa known for its music and its bars.

There people can visit the costumes made up of anything from flip-flops to cell phone cases, electric wires, plugs and cigarette packs. “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed,” says the inscription on the wall, welcoming visitors.

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