Old Cell Phones as Art Confronts Technological Pollution in Ivory Coast

Ivorian artist Mounou Desire Koffi aims to shed light on environmental pollution through his art made from discarded cellphone keyboards.

“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 blackboard to illustrate the lessons,” he said.

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 embarked on the search for old keyboards, slates and mobile phone screens on the sides of the road, 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 said.

“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 selective sorting 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 on 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”, tells of daily life in Abidjan.

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

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