Sweetlove’s recycled exhibition a first in SA

Belgian artist William Sweetlove has been using his artworks to challenge people to become environmental thinkers and behavioural ecologists for close to 50 years, through more than 600 exhibitions worldwide.

He will host his first exhibition in South Africa until Saturday June 11 at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Sweetlove’s Water Wars exhibition will be on display in the garden, highlighting the reality of how the excesses of humanity are threatening our natural resources.

The Fisherman-hunter sculpture will be on display at the Old Dam and more than 60 penguin sculptures will be set up in the Vlei Garden.

Sweetlove describes his work as “cautionary” – conceptual interpretations of the consequences of man’s environmental choices.

“A world without plastic is no longer possible,” explains Sweetlove. “The problem isn’t plastic itself, but the fact that people burn it and throw it into the sea.”

Sweetlove’s sculptures, which are made from recycled plastic from landfills, or recycled bronze and aluminium, are a whimsical representation of fantasy and fact.

The exuberance of his sculptures transforms ordinary animals and objects into iconic figures.

At first encounter, the red, green and yellow artworks look like supersized toys, but they disrupt our childhood associations by the introduction of incongruous additions such as boots, backpacks and water bottles.

These suggest survival measures; and rather than amuse, they elicit concern.

The larger-than-life penguins that will be positioned in the Vlei Garden, for example, draw our attention to the impending shortage of clean drinking water with the water bottles they wear on their backs.

The fisherman becomes a hunter, unable to fish in the polluted water.

“Water Wars is a natural fit for us at Kirstenbosch,” says Philip le Roux, curator of the garden.

“These works highlight the importance of biodiversity and conservation, both issues that are at the core of what we do at South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

“We hope that the exhibition will spark the important conversations that each of us should be having about our responsibility to reduce the impact that we have on our environment.