NextGen: Cyrus Kabiru's Art Tells Tangible, Whimsical Stories Through Recycled Junk

NextGen: Cyrus Kabiru's Art Tells Tangible, Whimsical Stories Through Recycled Junk

In our second edition of 'NextGen,' we feature Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru.

DIASPORAOver the course of July we'll be publishing short profiles, essays and interviews on the theme of "Afrofutures." Together these stories will be a deep dive into the way African and diaspora thinkers, technologists and artists view a future for Africans in the world and outside of it. 

Take a look at our introduction to Afrofuturism here.

Throughout this month, we'll also highlight and celebrate young, leading talents who already put into practice what a future with black people look like through their work in our daily profile series, 'NextGen.'

In our second edition, we feature Kenyan artist, Cyrus Kabiru. 

We have such a complex relationship with glasses. For some, like me, it is a clumsy, cumbersome mask that covers the face, a tool we must use to see the world (unless we wear contacts or get surgery for perfect eyesight). For others, it's a fashion statement that accelerates an outfit, or a shady instrument that protects us from the sun and transforms us into mysterious and aloof cool cats.

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Cyrus Kabiru's glasses have several meanings. They are a statement of personal style, a tool of sensory, an answer to littering and an accessory that he longed to wear (he wanted glasses since he was a child, so his dad told him to make his own). The Kenyan-born artist makes quirky, extravagant glasses out of: everyday rubbish. The product: frames so animated, so out of this world, that they bring pride to the phrase "four eyes."

In an interview with Karen Eng for TED, Kabiru explains why he enjoys turning trash into optical treasures:

"The place where I grew up faced the Nairobi dump site. All the trash, all the waste of Nairobi, used to be dumped in my neighborhood. So whenever I woke up, the first thing I saw was garbage. I used to tell my dad I would like to give trash a second chance. I would like to work with trash. And that’s why, up to now, that’s what I’ve done."

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Glasses are only one part of Kabiru's whimsical world of designs. The artist is composing a series of traditional bikes, (called Black Mambas, which originated in India but were once popular in Africa) from old bikes and other materials that he's reinterpreted into refreshing, steampunk-esque rides. It's Kabiru's way of paying homage to a timeless mode of transportation that is often taken for-granted.


Kabiru’s art focuses on merging the past and the future by honoring traditional elements and marrying them to innovative structures and ideas. Bicycles and glasses reflect our relationships to movement, transportation, sight and how we interact with the world. Art is the perfect playground for him to explore these ideas and exercise the power of physical, tangible storytelling. “I always say we here in Kenya never had visual art. We used to tell a story instead,” he says in his interview with Quartz. “Now, I’m trying to make a story with an object.”