NAIROBI, Kenya — Cyrus Kabiru is an artist, sculptor, painter and creator of fine spectacles. It’s the glasses – C-Stunners – he’s best known for. Beautiful, even whimsical, they are created with scraps of metal, chains, cutlery and bits of leather. All his materials are found on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya.
Raised in a slum near the city’s dumpsite, Kabiru saw the potential in discarded things. “I used to tell my dad I would like to give trash a second chance,” he said in a TED2013 interview. His family of eight lived in a two-room apartment. One room was his parent’s. The other was an all-purpose kitchen, dining room and bedroom.
But for Kabiru, art was more consuming than the chance to get ahead. He avoided studying in favor of doodling on papers, making early versions of his now famous glasses. His family didn’t understand this inclination for art. His grandmother, he says, is still trying to find him a job.
When he rejected his father’s offer of art school, he was told to leave. So off he went with “40 dollars, a mattress, and a stove.” For a while he lived off money found in bus seats and on the street. He says he is simply lucky. “It’s always happened this way. Every week I find money.”
Despite his difficult upbringing, Kabiru doesn’t often speak on his past, preferring to draw attention to his work.
A recipient of a 2012 TED fellowship, he might now be called successful. As part of his program ‘Outreach,’ Kabiru travels through Kenya, where he teaches people in rural communities to create art with the materials they have available.
In regions where survival is tantamount, little is invested in art. But the people of Kenya have a rich art history. And the fact that some live in poverty should never outweigh the fact that they are human, with the same capacity and love of human expression. “They say art is for the rich,” said Kabiru, “No. Art is for everyone.”
– Olivia Kostreva
Sources: TED Blog, ExtraImaginary, TheCultureTrip
Photo: Hip Hop Kambi