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Caribbean Upcycling Art

Caribbean Upcycling Art

The Caribbean islands, often celebrated for their natural beauty, are fostering a movement that goes beyond the postcard-perfect scene. Here, a unique artistic phenomenon is taking root: Caribbean Upcycling Art. In Haiti, especially, this art form thrives, transforming everyday discards into breathtaking pieces that tell a story of resilience, cultural heritage, and sheer creativity. This article delves into the world of Haitian Upcycling Art, exploring the techniques, the inspiration behind the works, and the talented artisans who are weaving magic from what most would consider waste.

Caribbean Craft: A Model of Sustainable Artistry

Caribbean Craft, founded in Haiti in 1990, is an exemplary model of sustainable craftsmanship in the Caribbean. This notable enterprise has championed the art of upcycling, transforming discarded materials into extraordinary works of art.

At Caribbean Craft, artisans convert old steel drums into stunning pieces of “oil drum art.” Their papier-mâché crafts, made from empty cement bags and starch from locally grown arrowroot, showcase their innovative approach to recycling. These items, once trash, now serve as symbols of creativity and sustainability.

The company’s commitment extends beyond creating beautiful artisan pieces. Caribbean Craft provides:

  • Fair wages
  • Health insurance
  • Accident insurance
  • A pension system
  • Interest-free loans to help during times of crisis

Following the devastating earthquake in 2010, they provided meals for their workers and launched a literacy program. By 2014, every single team member could read and write, surpassing Haiti’s national average literacy rate.

In 2009, Caribbean Craft established a permanent showroom in Atlanta’s Americas Mart, marking the first Haitian company to do so. These international connections led to partnerships with major retailers like HomeGoods, Anthropologie, and West Elm, expanding their reach and impact.

Caribbean Craft’s mission is clear: to showcase the beauty of Haiti through exports of high-quality artisan crafts while fostering sustainable incomes for artisans and promoting recycling. Their work has enriched the artisans’ lives and brought the rich culture of Haiti to the world.

Caribbean Upcycling Art
Caribbean Upcycling Art

Tambran by Tamara: Eco-Jewelry Innovation

Tamara Prosper has combined her business acumen with her love for art, creating the eco-jewelry brand, Tambran by Tamara. Launched in 2013 while she pursued her studies at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad & Tobago, Tambran by Tamara transforms waste into treasure.

Motivated by the volume of reusable waste produced by the university, Tamara began experimenting with discarded banners and scrap wood, transforming these materials into exquisite jewelry. This creative upcycling forms the foundation of her brand’s ethos, merging sustainability with luxury.

Without a traditional advertising budget or capital for a storefront, Tamara relied on social media and competitions to kick-start her venture. This savvy use of digital platforms built her customer base and helped secure the necessary capital to grow her business.

As Tambran by Tamara evolves, so does its product line. New collections are set to incorporate natural materials such as seeds and pods from Shak Shak trees, blending these organic elements with paint and synthetics to create unique pieces.

Tamara has also acquired a second-hand vehicle to serve as both a mobile and stationary store. This allows her to bring her jewelry directly to customers at highly-trafficked events, ensuring greater accessibility and visibility for her brand.

Beyond jewelry, Tamara is eyeing the fashion industry. Plans are underway to incorporate hand-painted jeans, tops, and perhaps couture pieces, into the Tambran by Tamara line. Her vision is for the brand to become a recognizable eco-Caribbean name across Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, and Trinidad within five years.

Tamara’s journey is a beacon for budding entrepreneurs. Her advice is clear:

  1. Believe in your product’s value and price it accordingly
  2. Start without delay
  3. Let the success of others inspire rather than discourage you

Her story reinforces the notion that with self-belief, determination, and an eye for innovation, sustainable entrepreneurship can thrive.

As Tambran by Tamara continues to grow and innovate, it remains a remarkable example of how passion, creativity, and sustainability can intersect to create a distinctive brand. To stay updated on her inspiring journey, follow Tambran by Tamara on Facebook and Instagram at @tambranbytamara.

Caribbean Upcycling Art
Caribbean Upcycling Art

Green Apple Foundation: Turning Glass Waste into Opportunity

In Cartagena, Colombia, the Green Apple Foundation is leading an inspiring transformation. This initiative is addressing waste management and creating valuable employment opportunities for locals by converting discarded glass bottles into beautiful, useful objects.

The foundation began its glass recycling program to tackle the problem of glass waste in Cartagena. Every evening, countless glass bottles were ending up in landfills, taking hundreds of years to decompose and polluting the landscape. With the establishment of the first glass recycling operation on the coast of Colombia, Green Apple started collecting 13,000 glass bottles per month, converting 85% into sand for use in construction and landscaping.

The remaining 15% of the bottles, which cannot be crushed, are being turned into art and utility items by newly trained artisans from the local community. To further their mission, the foundation has partnered with Emil Marún, a master glass artist with over 20 years of experience, to train locals in the art of glass working.

Marún’s one-month course equips ten creative individuals from the underdeveloped town of Bocachica with the skills to transform glass waste into exquisite pieces of art and practical items. This training promises to revitalize the artisans’ town, which suffers from high unemployment rates and lacks basic infrastructure.

Green Apple ensures continuous support by providing artisans with access to raw materials, tools, and business mentorship. By fostering connections with socially-minded businesses, they enable these artisans to sell their creations, promoting a circular economy that benefits all stakeholders.

The dedication of the Green Apple Foundation exemplifies how innovative recycling practices can pave the way for a more sustainable future. Their model of turning glass waste into economic opportunity serves as a reminder that with creativity and commitment, we can tackle waste problems while uplifting entire communities.

For those inspired by this initiative, your support can help Green Apple reach its goal of recycling 100% of the glass bottles collected, making a lasting difference in Cartagena. By contributing to this cause, you are supporting environmental well-being and the vitality of the local economy and its people.

Caribbean Upcycling Art
Caribbean Upcycling Art

Sonya Sanchez Arias: Merging Past and Present Through Upcycled Art

Sonya Sanchez Arias, a Boca Raton-based professional artist originally from Trinidad, has skillfully intertwined her cultural heritage with her passion for upcycling to create riveting pieces of art that tell the stories of both past and present.

Sonya’s journey is deeply rooted in her rich Creole ancestry. When she discovered a book by her great-great-grandfather in the Smithsonian Libraries’ archives, it provided a unique snapshot of life in southern Trinidad and sparked a creative wave in Sonya, leading her to bridge the wisdom of her ancestors with contemporary art practices1.

Her exhibition, “Sonya Sanchez Arias: Then and Now (Something Old Something New),” showcased at the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County’s Solo Gallery, features an array of works that amplify the resilience and beauty of discarded and recycled materials, challenging conventional notions of beauty and value.

Sonya’s art is about the transformative power of upcycling. She carefully searches for abandoned objects and breathes new life into them, combining these elements with digital collages and portraits. Each item she creates weaves a story that speaks to the viewer about the endurance of the past and the possibilities of the future.

Her pieces are often layered and complex, inviting viewers to take a moment to inspect the juxtaposition of old and new. From paper dresses made out of vintage materials to distinctive, digitally-enhanced jewelry, Sonya’s work is a testament to the art of reinvention. These creations pay homage to her cultural roots and raise discussions around sustainability, nostalgia, and the tenacity of her forebears.

The exhibition integrates contemporary techniques with historical narratives, creating a dialogue between different time periods and making a case for the continuous cycle of learning and growth. The book that sparked her journey is also featured in the exhibition, serving as a touchstone for her exploration into Trinidad’s layered history.

Sonya’s vision extends beyond just her pieces; it’s about instigating change and awareness. Her use of recycled materials underscores a commitment to environmental sustainability. Each repurposed object gains new life and purpose, illustrating the potential of what we often overlook as waste.

Through her art, Sonya Sanchez Arias honors her heritage and constructs a visual story that speaks to contemporary issues of sustainability and identity. Her work has achieved international acclaim, reinforcing her role as a crusader for cultural preservation and eco-conscious artistry.

To explore more of Sonya’s work, visit sonyasanchezarias.com or follow her on Instagram at @cre8tivechild. Through her art, Sonya Sanchez Arias is reminding us that the beauty of the past can shine through into the present, creating ripples of impact for generations to come.

Caribbean Upcycling Art
Caribbean Upcycling Art

The stories of Caribbean Craft, Tambran by Tamara, Green Apple Foundation, and Sonya Sanchez Arias showcase how creativity and sustainability can intersect to create meaningful change. These initiatives uplift communities and demonstrate the potential of turning waste into valuable resources. Their work is a testament to the power of innovation and dedication in fostering a more sustainable and thoughtful world.

Key Takeaways:

  • Upcycling discarded materials can create extraordinary works of art and utility items.
  • Sustainable enterprises can provide fair wages, health benefits, and educational opportunities for their workers.
  • Social media and digital platforms can be leveraged to build customer bases and secure capital for eco-friendly ventures.
  • Training local artisans in sustainable craftsmanship can revitalize underdeveloped communities.
  • Merging cultural heritage with contemporary art practices can create powerful, thought-provoking pieces that speak to issues of sustainability and identity.

By supporting these initiatives and adopting their principles, we can all contribute to a more sustainable, creative, and equitable future.

  1. Arias SS. Discovering the Past, Inspiring the Future: How a Family Heirloom Sparked an Artist’s Journey. ArtTalk Magazine. 2022;15(3):22-25.
  2. https://www.caribbean-craft.com/
  3. https://tambranbytamara.com/

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