Story and photo by REUTERS
Desire Koffi often walks through Koumassi, a working class district of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to buy old mobile phones from people for 500 CFA francs ($0.87) a pair.
Back home, the 24-year-old artist smashes the phones with a hammer and pulls out the screens and keypads. He uses them for his paintings, which can take three to five days to complete.
Koffi grew up in Koumassi and says he was drawn to recycling and incorporating e-waste into his art after seeing how it affected his environment.
“My number one goal is to try, in my own small way, to reduce electronic waste that is found in the streets and in the bins,” he said. “Here, we are in one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods, where you usually find old phones which can no longer be repaired.”
With a population of 5.5 million, Abidjan generates up to 1,500 tons of e-waste per year, according to the E-waste Implementation Toolkit. Koffi says much of this waste can be used to make money.
With several exhibitions abroad and at home under his belt, Koffi is quickly becoming one of Côte d’Ivoire’s most important figures in contemporary art.
“I think his work is great. He has decided to go into recycling, and it really suits him because his work stands out from all others,” said fellow Ivoirian artist Ezechiel Guibe.
“Despite incorporating recycling material into his work, he manages to capture all these forms, faces and emotions in his work, which really blew us away,” added art gallery director Olivier Pepe.