Kenya is more popular for the accomplishments of its athletes, its wildlife safaris, than for its artists. But the East African nation boasts a great number of incredibly talented writers, artistes and painters; Cyrus Kabiru is one of them.
As a kid, Kabiru lived opposite a mountain of thrash. It was the view he woke up to. Because of the recurring sight of thrash, he resolved to do something about it. He told his father often, that he wanted to “give thrash a second chance”. Little did they know, he had prophesied what his future career will be.
Kabiru, 28, obtained the materials for his eye-catching C-stunner sunglasses from refuse, thereby demonstrating that creativity can stem from the stench of refuse on Nairobi streets.
On the C-stunner, Kabiru said in a TEDex 2013 talk, “My dad is the one who wanted me to make the glasses; he challenged me to make them. He used to have real glasses when he was young. And one day, he messed with them and crushed them by accident. He was beaten by my grandmother because of this. So he hid the glasses from that day. And I used to admire wearing glasses when I was young. He used to say, “Cyrus, if you want to wear the glasses, maybe make your own glasses.” And that’s how I started making my own glasses. I was about seven years old.”
Kabiru is a self-taught sculptor and painter. He started making the glasses, now known as C-stunners as a kid, and it came in handy as bribe for his classmates to induce them to do his homework.
Unlike most professional artists from the Africa, Kabiru did not go to a tertiary institution. After high school he decided to focus on his art. His family was not very happy with this decision. For his resolve to pursue his art rather than ogling in classrooms for years, and then chasing a white-collar job, Kabiru was a recipient of invectives from both family and friends. This choice and refusal to change his mind led to his expulsion from home.
Today, Kabiru’s spectacular sculptural creations and dedication to the things that his environment offers are increasingly earning him international recognition. He has been invited to speak at major events such as the TED2013 conference in California. He has been interviewed by CNN, and Milan Fashion Week.
Kabiru’s project, Outreach, is his way of giving back to the society. He traveled to different locations in Kenya, especially rural areas, to show the natives how to work with the materials regarded as waste. He also visited deforested arid regions, plagued by famine and drought, targeting the older generation of a community known for their sculpture. For him, in making an impact, the older generation must be first taught as they would eventually teach the youth.
During the project, the older sculptors were taught how to work with alternative materials, such as plastics and wires, in a workshop that lasted two weeks. The attendees at the workshop were shown how to recycle and refuse to art.
With an impressive number of solo and group exhibitions/presentations namely: FNB Joburg Art Fair 2014, Cape Town Art Fair 2015, Black Mamba FNB Joburg Art Fair 2015, C-Stunners and Black Mamba 2015, FNB Joburg Art Fair 2016, and The Amory Show 2016; Kabiru’s relentless dedication to his art is a pointer to the fact that, sometimes, our background cannot hinder our success, if only we are dedicated to what we do. Cyrus Kabiru’s rise from the refuse-infested slum in Kibera, Nairobi is clearly a leap from Nairobi refuse to Global spectrum.