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Monday, 16 December 2013

Plastic bottle Christmas tree wows Arcades shoppers

By Andrew Mulenga

No one really knows where we adopted the tradition of decorating evergreen trees during the Christmas holiday, but who really cares, they have very much become iconic symbols of the festive season and don’t we all enjoy the sight of a well decorated tree.

The huge Christmas tree made of
discarded plastic bottles has become a centre
of attraction at Arcades Shopping Mall
in Lusaka
Anyway, this year Arcades Shopping Mall in Lusaka has a very unusual Christmas tree, it does not have any fancy decorations such as candy canes and silver bells but the gigantic tree made entirely of discarded plastic bottles is an eye-catching spectacle – especially at night -- that is apparently attracting a good number of onlookers who eagerly pose in front of it to take photos with their mobile phones.

Placed on the east side of the shopping mall, the plastic bottle Christmas tree is in fact made of 9,000 discarded bottles that are arranged in three conical tiers that are supported by a steel frame. Designed by celebrated Zambian sculptor Flinto Chandia the tree was assembled with the aid of 31 underprivileged children from the Lubuto Library, Mulele Mwana, Chikumbuso, Open Arms and Pestalozzi orphanages.

Built as an environmental awareness statement as well as a decorative piece, the tree is a product of the “Just Imagine Art Workshops” for children organised by The stART Foundation Trust a small Lusaka based charity dedicated to the generation and promotion of visual arts practice and arts education in Zambia.

“The tree was designed by Flinto, and the structure was made at his studio on Malambo Road and from there we transported it to the Swedish school, this is where (artists) Mwamba Mulangala, David Makala and I worked with the children”, said Vandita Varjangbhay at the site a day after the trees official unveiling by Lusaka Province permanent secretary Wamunyima Muwana last week.

She also explained that the process from conceptualization to actualization had been a six month journey of planning and lobbying for support.

The inside of the tree can
be accessed by a hatch door
“While Flinto was working we were looking for a space and we had in mind it is going to be a massive structure and so we will need a lot of space. Luckily when we approached Arcades, they quickly jumped on board and were happy to have us here”, she said.

As for the trees aesthetic itself Varjangbhay said they did not want to adorn it with too many things. The major point of emphasis is the bottles and they really had to stand out. She added that the tree will remain standing until the first week of January.

“Being one of the first projects with children, I was uncertain on the first day but it all went well, we had about seven children that were peer educators and they were giving work to their fellow children. But you know how it is I couldn’t just stand back and watch I had to put my hand s in it, we did the work over three weekends,” said Makala one of the coordinating artists.

He said although the children came from different backgrounds he noticed that when people get together for a community project or common cause they end up working as a unit and he enjoyed watching them work together.

“And I think this is a call to artists when you are working on a collective community project your experience as artists should be put aside, that’s what Flinto did to us and you know that he is very experienced and it was an honour to work with him”, said Makala who is also a notably featured young visual artist exhibiting frequently at the exclusive 37d Gallery where The stART Foundation Trust hosts regular shows.

Makala explained that during the process of transporting the tree from the studio space to Arcades, the team faced a number of challenges and the structure fell apart a few times but Flinto quickly came to the rescue and had the project back on track just in time for the grand unveiling.

“When we brought it to arcades people had no idea what we were up to because it was in pieces. For the first time I saw people reacting positively to something they don’t know, including the media,” he said “In fact it showed us that there are people waiting for such projects of how to dispose or recycle such items and we were approached by a German non-profit organisation that has been looking for someone who can do this type of thing on a long term basis”.
Makala is looking forward to Christmas Day when he will be on site with a key that opens a hatch door on the side of the tree allowing people to take a view of the inside. Meanwhile, Twaya Art gallery at the Intercontinental Lusaka is currently showing a Patrick Mumba solo exhibition, the show is expected to be his last before he leaves to engage in postgraduate studies abroad next year.  

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