Turning e-waste into art at Ghana’s toxic dump

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Young men burn waste at Agbogbloshie dumpsite in Accra. Ghana is said to have the largest informal recycling industry in Africa and imports some 40,000 tons of this e-waste annually. (AFP)
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Ghanaian artist Joseph Awuah-Darko work on a clock, the pieces of which were found at Agbogloshie dumpsite, at his workshop at Ashesi University College where he studies. (AFP)
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Above, a table made by Ghanaian artist Joseph Awuah-Darko made of pieces of scrap metal found at Agbogloshie dumpsite at his workshop at Ashesi University College, where he studies. (AFP)
Updated 27 December 2017
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Turning e-waste into art at Ghana’s toxic dump

ACCRA: Joseph Awuah-Darko sits on a stool at one of the world’s largest electronic waste dumps, watching polystyrene and insulation cables burn on the blackened ground.
“It’s survival and dystopia,” says the 21-year-old British-born Ghanaian, surveying the stretch of wasteland around him as dense plumes of acrid smoke rise into the air.
Awuah-Darko and his university friends have ambitious plans for the sprawling Agbogbloshie dumping ground in Ghana’s capital, Accra.
In January this year, he co-founded the non-profit Agbogblo.Shine Initiative, which encourages people working at the dump to turn waste into high-end furniture.
The dump workers typically risk exposure to harmful fumes by burning obsolete and unwanted appliances such as mobile phones, computers, televisions and plastics that are brought to Ghana from around the world.
After burning, they salvage and resell copper and other metals from these leftovers of modern consumer culture.
The dump and scrapyard sit next to the heavily polluted Odaw River in the slum-like area, home to an estimated 40,000 people.
The UN has said that salvaging materials for recycling provides income for more than 64 million people in the developing world.
Ghana is said to have the largest informal recycling industry in Africa and imports some 40,000 tons of this e-waste annually.
When Awuah-Darko first saw the piles of circuit boards, wires and plastics at Agbogbloshie he decided he wanted to use his artistic talent as a force for change.
So he set up the Agbogblo.Shine project with Cynthia Muhonja, a fellow student from Ashesi University, about an hour’s drive from Accra.
They repurpose the electronic scraps, “upcycling” them into furniture, and offer training for the young men who work at the dump to create the pieces.
The students straddle two worlds — a privileged life on the lush campus of a private university in a forested area, and the harsh reality of life for some of Ghana’s poorest people.
Mohamed Abdul Rahim, who is in charge of about 20 young men, has been working at Agbogbloshie since 2008.
The 25-year-old from the north of Ghana works 12-hour days, six days a week. On average the workers make only about 20 cedi each (SR16.64) a day.
He knows the work is bad for his health but doesn’t see any other option. However he is optimistic that Awuah-Darko’s initiative will help.
“We are suffering here because the heat is there, the smoke, too, it disturbs us. If we see good work we will go join it and leave this,” he says.
The toxic fumes hurt his lungs, while his hips and waist ache from carrying heavy objects to burn. The money he earns supports his mother, wife and three children.
The ground he works on is black, muddy and littered with plastic bags, cables, bottles and broken shoes alongside smashed television sets and computer monitors.
Workers use plastics and polystyrene as fuel to melt down components to extract the copper.
Awuah-Darko recognizes that the people of Agbogbloshie “are basically in pursuit of what we all want, which is a better life.”
“Unfortunately, the side effects or the by-product of this is the detriment of their health,” he said.
He hopes that his initiative will not only improve their lives but also the planet, as waste from the site is given another life.
Awuah-Darko’s first upcycled work is a grandfather clock, made from a galvanized car axle, aluminum and part of a discarded wall clock.
Two high-end hotels in Accra are currently vying to buy the unusual timepiece, he said, and with such interest he has plans to create more and expand operations.
Awuah-Darko sees a future where around 100 people from Agbogbloshie can leave their harmful work to build furniture.
He also wants to exhibit the creations at major galleries around the world and sell them at auction houses.
That would be a world away for someone like Mohammed Sofo, a thin 26-year-old with small tattoos on his face.
But Sofo wants to live in a world where he does not have to burn waste to survive.
“Some people think we are bad because they think we are mad persons,” he said.
“If we get money no one will look at us like that. Some day will come when no one will be working here.”


China’s most expensive movie becomes epic flop

Updated 17 July 2018
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China’s most expensive movie becomes epic flop

  • The film cost 750 million yuan ($113.5 million) to make, state media said
  • The estimated loss of $106 million would make it the fifth-biggest flop in movie history worldwide

BEIJING: With a $113-million budget, the most expensive Chinese film ever made has become a flop of historic proportions, pulled from theaters on its opening weekend after bringing in a paltry $7.3 million.
Alibaba Pictures’ special effects-heavy fantasy film “Asura” was intended as the first instalment in an epic trilogy inspired by Tibetan Buddhist mythology, part of a drive by authorities to promote works bearing elements of traditional Chinese culture.
The film cost 750 million yuan ($113.5 million) to make, state media said, and opened on Friday, but Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan said it only took in just over $7.3 million at the weekend.
By Sunday, the film’s official social media account posted a statement declaring that it would be removed from theaters as of 10 p.m. that night.
“We express our apologies to all those who wanted to but won’t have the chance to see it,” it said.
Most of China’s biggest blockbusters to date have been made with half the budget lavished on “Asura.”
The estimated loss of $106 million would make it the fifth-biggest flop in movie history worldwide, behind frontrunner “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” which suffered losses of $125 million, according to data from website Box Office Mojo.
State media had touted the movie before it was released, with the China Daily hailing “Asura” as “the most hotly anticipated blockbuster of China’s competitive summer season.”
“It’s a very imaginative movie. We wanted the film to raise confidence in our own culture and train more domestic talent,” Yang Hongtao, chairman of Ningxia Film Group, one of the movie’s backers, told the paper ahead of Friday’s opening.
Six years in the making, the film was heavy on expensive visuals, featuring 2,400 scenes with special effects in its runtime of just 141 minutes, the paper noted.
Bankable Hong Kong actors Tony Leung Ka-fai and Carina Lau starred, while high-powered foreign talent — such as Oscar-winning Ngila Dickson, costume designer for the “Lord of the Rings” franchise — also took part.
Yet the film garnered a rotten 3.1 rating on Douban, China’s most influential user review platform.
“My god, it’s horrifying! It’s just a magnificent pile of excrement!” one user wrote.
Wildly different reviews on the country’s two largest ticketing platforms prompted a virulent retort from the movie’s production team, posted Friday to its social media account.
On opening day, “Asura” netted an 8.4 rating out of 10 on Alibaba-owned Tao Piaopiao. But on Maoyan, backed by Alibaba’s rival tech giant Tencent, reviewers had given it just 4.9.
The team accused Maoyan of using fake, paid reviewers to post 1-star ratings to artificially deflate the film’s score, calling the alleged move “despicable, foolish, and ludicrous.”
Many users dismissed the film’s team’s statement.
“It was garbage anyway,” one reviewer wrote.