Art with Purpose: One Man’s Trash is These Artists’ Inspiration

Around the world, we’re witnessing an ever-increasing rise in single-use plastic pollution and learning of its impact on our environment and the wildlife which live within large nations like Kenya and Taiwan and Caribbean neighbours Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, Dominica, Haiti, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It’s also been a threat in cities like Montreal, Canada; Seattle, Washington; and New York, New York. Right here in the Cayman Islands, though, local artists and one small-but-fierce nonprofit group are doing their part in the war against single-use plastic whilst raising awareness and challenging their artistic abilities.

Stoak’d: A Trio Takes on Pop Art

Pop art in the Cayman Islands took on a whole new meaning when, earlier this year, Stoak’d unveiled their larger-than-life portrait of the iconic American singer, songwriter and musician Jimi Hendrix at KAABOO, a music and arts festival. From a distance, the eight-foot-tall piece appears to be a pixellated, computer-generated image but on closer inspection is a mural made from nearly 13,000 bottle caps.

Marc Laurenson, Pamela Laurenson and Kevin Mounsor, the threesome behind Stoak’d, said the project was created to bring awareness to the plastic pollution problem in the Cayman Islands.

“We started with beach cleanups,” Marc commented on behalf of the group, “and then we teamed up with Plastic Free Cayman, a grass-roots nonprofit organisation passionate about reducing single-use plastic, and all of the local schools on island; we collected over 500,000 plastic bottle caps in under a year.”

But the buck doesn’t stop there; in the past, the team has collaborated with other like-minded artists to create more upcycled pieces, including Save Cayman’s Waters (2018) and Mahi Mahi (2017), both of which feature game fish constructed from plastic bits and bobs like shoes, hair rollers and random plastic containers that washed up on Cayman’s shores. They are also currently working on recycled sculptures, another bottle cap mural and their second Cayman parrot piece made from used postage stamps.

Kerwin Ebanks: Letting Trash Speak for Itself

What began as a hunt for driftwood lumber for handcrafted board games evolved into complex mosaic pieces made from plastic and more for local artist Kerwin Ebanks. “I began collecting the plastic oil bottles I found on the beach just to dispose of them, but eventually bits and pieces of trash found their way into my artwork,” he shares.

Ebanks curated the “Trash Talks” exhibition at Premier Crew Tap Room, which launched in April of this year and featured several artists who used recycled materials in their work. He personally exhibited a four-foot round mosaic piece entitled The Bogue, which depicted a trio of brown booby birds often found on Cayman Brac’s Bluff made from thousands of hand-cut “tiles” of high-density polyethylene plastic. His second piece, Turbulence, was a hanging frigate bird sculpture consisting of hundreds of feet of reclaimed fishing tackle, which has since taken up a long-term space above the bar in the Tap Room.

Professionally, Ebanks is also the art teacher at a local public high school and uses every opportunity to challenge his students to produce artwork using reclaimed materials, particularly as the Art Club operates on a limited budget.

Kaitlyn Elphinstone: Marrying the Environment with Art

Kaitlyn Elphinstone’s approach to art is contemporary and versatile, exploring different mediums, assemblage, textiles and found objects. Having grown up in the Caribbean, the one constant is her anchorage to Cayman’s nature and the rich coastal environments.

She is commonly recognised for her piece Woven Sea Fan, which marries a recovered sea fan with plastic shopping bags to create an elegant, featherlike piece.

“The idea was to craft an object which balances beauty with harsh realities and allows the viewer to contemplate the impact — positive or negative — we have on our natural environments,” Elphinstone explains. “It was challenging to weave plastics through the delicate lattice of a sea fan; it certainly took longer than I had originally anticipated.”

As an artist of the upcycled medium, Elphinstone shared how empowering it is to create something that has a purpose and a solid message. “Our relationship with the environment is incredibly complex and can be difficult to articulate; visual art can be a powerful tool to communicate what might be very difficult to put into words.”

Woven Sea Fan can be viewed within the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands’ Permanent Collection, and her most recent work — a 30-foot-tall public art installation — is part of the gallery’s “Art at the Airport” initiative at the newly built Owen Roberts International Airport on Grand Cayman.

Get Involved with the Movement

Visitors and residents wishing to get involved in the upcycled art movement may volunteer in Plastic Free Cayman’s monthly beach cleanup events, which supports many artists by supplying the materials used. In addition, individuals, schools and businesses may take the 345 Pledge, which encourages participants to do three things immediately, four things in six months, and five things one year from now. To learn more, visit plasticfreecayman.com.

Cover photo: Wild Tamarind by Kaitlyn Elphinstone

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