Earth Day: Malaysian art found in e-waste, broken plates, torn flags, plastic scrap


A recycled e-waste work called 'Climate Change Is Real' (2019) by Nor Tijan Firdaus. Photo: Filepic

This year’s Earth Day theme is "Restore Our Earth", which invites us to reflect on how green technologies, natural processes and innovative ideas and thinking can restore the world’s ecosystems.

On Earth Day today, we have rounded up a few Malaysian artists and a collective who create art from discarded objects and waste, or simply use unlikely everyday items in their artistic pursuits.

Instead of waste ending up in landfills or clogging our waterways, these creative people are transforming the discarded and neglected into works of art.

Artist gives new life to e-waste

Known for her e-waste assemblages, Nor Tijan Firdaus is inspired by how we are surrounded by electronic devices and numerous other everyday items that are expected to be disposed of.

By piecing discarded components together, she gives e-waste a new lease of life as an art installation or sculpture. Among her popular pieces are her recreations of famous artworks, like Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With The Pearl Earring, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, Henri Matisse’s The Amber Necklace and Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Nor Tijan Firdaus' 'After The Kiss' (e-waste on wood coated with 2k matte epoxy resin, 2020). Photo: Core Design GalleryNor Tijan Firdaus' 'After The Kiss' (e-waste on wood coated with 2k matte epoxy resin, 2020). Photo: Core Design Gallery

No paintbrush? No problem

Red Hong Yi is known as the artist who “paints without a paintbrush”. Instead she has created art out of everyday objects, recycled items and food (eggshells to teabags).

Recently, her global climate change artwork comprising 50,000 green-tipped matchsticks forming a world map, made it on the cover of Time. Also this month, she unveiled Kaleidoscope, an art installation comprising seven mirrored panels made out of 24,000 pieces of used aluminium capsules from a coffee company's recycling programme.

Red Hong Yi's installation work on climate change has made the cover of the latest issue of 'Time' magazine (April 26). Photo: Time/Annice LynRed Hong Yi's installation work on climate change has made the cover of the latest issue of 'Time' magazine (April 26). Photo: Time/Annice Lyn

Making art with plastic waste

The Aftermath Thinker collective from Sarawak, featuring eco art activists Mohd Razif Rathi, Clement Jimel and Zaidi Wasli, have been turning heads with their installations that use daily plastic waste.

This collective turns discarded plastic (bottles to plates) into colourful objects and crafts. The artists have been known to produce life sized installations using plastic plates, made entirely from recycling wasted HDPE plastics.

First the plastics are shred to tiny pieces then melted into plates by using oven and mould. The HDPE plates are then trimmed and shaped using power tools. Add your own imagination to create art.

A plastic installation from Aftermath Thinker seen at the climate change-themed Ipoh International Art Festival in 2019. Photo IIAFA plastic installation from Aftermath Thinker seen at the climate change-themed Ipoh International Art Festival in 2019. Photo IIAF

Beauty found in the chipped and broken

Sculptor Alice Chang knows exactly what to do when broken porcelain plates and ceramic tiles come her way. She makes sculptures with them. When she heard that a ceramics warehouse in Penang was closing down, she made her way there and left with two lorries filled with chipped plates and broken ceramic pieces.

One of her recent works at Kwai Chai Hong in Kuala Lumpur, titled "The Lady", was made with hundreds of broken porcelain pieces. In a recent interview in The Star, she said she believes we have a responsibility when it comes to using the earth's resources. By upcycling material into something of value and beauty, these items will not only be kept out of the landfills but can be enjoyed as a work of art.

Alice Chang with her sculpture 'The Lady' at Kwai Chai Hong in KL. Photo: Javier ChorAlice Chang with her sculpture 'The Lady' at Kwai Chai Hong in KL. Photo: Javier Chor

Recycling passion that never flags

During the 2013 general election campaign, Sharon Chin, no stranger in advocating recycling through art, collected various political party flags from around her home base of Port Dickson and painted images of weeds from her garden on them. These weeds, a metaphor for dissent and resilience, are known for their ability to survive and thrive in adverse conditions.

She also presented In The Skin Of A Tiger: Monument To What We Want (Tugu Kita), a large-scale fabric installation commissioned for the 2019 Singapore Biennale, comprising 13 banners in blue, red, green and white. These banners were made from fabric salvaged from discarded political flags from the historic 2018 Malaysian election and signify, among other things, the aspirations of everyday people.

Sharon Chin's installation banner ‘In the Skin Of A Tiger: Monument To What We Want (Tugu Kita)’, made from discarded political flags after GE14, seen at the Singapore Biennale in 2019. Photo: The Straits Times/ANNSharon Chin's installation banner ‘In the Skin Of A Tiger: Monument To What We Want (Tugu Kita)’, made from discarded political flags after GE14, seen at the Singapore Biennale in 2019. Photo: The Straits Times/ANN

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