An Ivorian artist turns old mobile phones into art

Ivorian artist Mounou Désiré Koffi creates a work with used telephone keyboards in his residence in Bingerville, a town in Abidjan, on April 28, 2022. — Photo AFP

By assembling discarded cellphone keyboards into art, Ivorian artist Mounou Desire Koffi hopes to raise awareness about pollution.

“I wanted to bring something new,” said the artist, whose work is exhibited in Abidjan until July.

In his studio in Bingerville, near the Ivorian economic capital, the 28-year-old describes himself as a “young contemporary artist” who wants to stand out.

“I have been passionate about drawing since childhood. It was always me that the teacher sent to the board to illustrate the lessons,” he says.

When he decided he wanted to go to art school, his parents, who worked as farmers in southwestern Ivory Coast, had no idea what it was like. His art teacher had to visit them to persuade them to let him go.

A graduate of his promotion at the School of Fine Arts in Abidjan, he starts looking for old keyboards and screens of mobile phones on the sides of the roads, in the gutters and in the dumps.

“Now I have a whole team that gets paid based on the quality of what they deliver,” he says.

“I told them, ‘Stop throwing things away. Bring them to me and we can work with them.”

In his workshop, someone left bags full of spare parts for mobile phones.

Koffi dives into a pile of keyboards and screens to find the ones he needs.

By placing them side by side on the canvas, he creates colorful human silhouettes in urban settings.

Some of his works sell for up to $1,500.

According to him, the goal is to try to “solve a problem” in a country where sorting of garbage is almost non-existent and where most household waste ends up in heaps in the street.

“Most of my works reflect the daily existence of man in society,” he said.

“I think phones are the closest tools to us right now. We have almost everything stored in our phones.

The artist, who had exhibited his works in Morocco, Belgium and France, affirms that his works seek to arouse a reflection on waste.

“We find all sorts of things in our bins… I try to raise awareness.”

Anxious to reflect current debates, Koffi has depicted pollution in his paintings, but also floods, traffic jams and child soldiers.

One of his latest series, entitled ‘La vie ici’, chronicles daily life in Abidjan.

After a first exhibition in the coastal town of Bassam, his work is now presented until July at the Donwahi Foundation in the capital.