Cyrus Kabiru, 36


Cyrus was in Venice, Italy last week when two of his sculptures were selling at the Art Auction East Africa in Nairobi for more than Sh1.2 million.

“It was important that my work is in the auction, but not important that I be there,” said the 36-year-old globe-trotting Kenyan artist.

What was also important to this self-taught sculptor and painter was that the funds raised would go a long way to building up the Art Orodha Centre that he had established in 2019 outside Nairobi to provide space for young artists to work, learn, share ideas, exhibit their works, and sell them at the same time.

Cyrus had been invited to Italy to speak to students from several Italian universities about his favourite topic, giving trash a second chance. The subject as well as the speaker has attracted so much interest that he has been invited with his art, to speak or hold workshops everywhere from Cape Town, Milan, Dubai, and Amsterdam to Hong Kong, Harlem, Hollywood, and Washington DC.

"I want younger artists to benefit from what I have learned"

For a young man who was born and raised just next to the Dandora dumpsite in Korogocho, Cyrus’s journey was fueled by his artistry and his desire to be the best at whatever he did. Knowing at a very early age that art was what he wanted to do with his life, the only art materials he could afford were foraged from the city dump. “People ask me if I was inspired by Pablo Picasso or Andy Warhol. I tell them I never heard of them until I left Kenya,” says Cyrus whose C-Stunner eyewear was inspired by his father’s glasses, spectacles his dad never allowed him to try on.

Cyrus may not be the first African artist to recycle urban trash and transform it into treasured items, including everything from jewellery to sculptures to monumental tapestries. But his message of seeing trash from a fresh perspective, in terms of how it can be turned into something dynamic, useful, or even beautiful, is reinforced with his quirky art.

For years, Cyrus was based at Kuona Trust in Nairobi where he initially worked with bottle-tops, wires, clippers, and pliers to create life-sized creatures. He also drew caricatures and cartoons, which were initially what took him to the Netherlands for his first exhibition overseas.

But with the success of his C-Stunners, he moved out to begin building the art centre which eventually became Art Orodha (or Trush Art).

“I want younger artists to benefit from what I have learned,” says Cyrus who keeps a low profile here at home.

The fact that his Blue Mamba bicycle sculpture sold for over Sh820,000 and his Radio sold for over Sh410,000 shows that even locally, Cyrus’s art is appreciated by those who understand works such as his can only accrue in value over time. And Cyrus’s time is now.

-Margaretta wa Gacheru