Skip to content

Mbongeni Buthelezi: The South African Artist Turning Plastic into Portraits    

For South African artist Mbongeni Buthelezi, his choice of medium was born out of desperation, but it ultimately came to define him as an artist and an activist. With little in the way of formal funding or support, he turned to a readily available resource – the plastic waste in local dumps – to be the foundation for his work. As he began to master the medium, he also became increasingly aware of the incredible damage that plastic refuse was wreaking on the environment, and he chose to use his art as a means of drawing attention to the problem. Buthelezi’s use of waste wasn’t always in defense of the environment; he first began using plastic litter for his art because he couldn’t afford more traditional mediums. Although his efforts have won widespread praise, Buthelezi says not everyone has been so supportive. “Some people say, ‘you will run out of plastics one day and then you won’t be able to do your work,'” he said. “They don’t understand that I would be happy if that happened. That is what I’m fighting for!”