From slimmer, sleeker and smarter mobile phones to appliances that make life easy, we lead a life perpetually plugged in one or the other electronic device. Perhaps, it is not a new piece of information. But we do not usually wonder about what happens to our old gadgets when the shiny new ones replace them. Most of the discarded e-waste either lands up at a second-hand store or a scrapyard. Eventually, it reaches the landfills.
50 per cent population of India is below 25 years of age. We are, indeed, a young nation. And it is the young that gets attracted to the electronic devices more and thinks of its correct disposal the least. According to an ASSOCHAM-NEC study, India is among the top five generators of e-waste in the world generating over two million tonnes per annum.
Yet, hope stays alive in artists like Mumbai-based Haribaabu Naatesan who breathe new life into e-waste by recycling it into eye-grabbing works of art.
From a life-size yellow Volkswagen beetle to larger than life flamingos and even a steampunk clock tower, Hari has been working his magic on hundreds of tonnes of e-waste and converting them into art installations since 1999.
Check out a few pictures below:
Obsolete walkmans, out-of-date videotapes, blunt saw blades, dead cell phones, floppy discs, fused light bulbs—everything that you and I regard as scrap, Hari regards as an intricate piece of a puzzle from which can spring an artwork.
Big names like Volkswagen, the Hiranandani group, the Lodha Group, the Raheja group commission pieces of artwork from Hari who had started out by using discarded electronic scrap from dump yards, friends, family, and thrift shops.
One of his most iconic works that you must definitely have come across is the Make in India logo. Commissioned by BIMA- Bombay Iron Merchant Association, Mumbai, he recreated the lion sculpture of ‘MAKE IN INDIA’ logo by using 1500 kgs of automobile scrap mostly mechanical gear wheels. The sculpture, unveiled by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, is placed at P D’Mello Road at Carnac Bunder Circle, Mumbai.
You may marvel at the ingenuity of this artist but his journey to success was anything but easy.
Haribaabu hails from Kerala and was brought up in Chennai where he completed his education. He graduated from the Chennai Government College of Fine Arts with a BSc degree in visual communication in 1999. He pursued his Master’s in animation film design in 2000 from the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad.
While it takes almost two and a half years to pass out of NID, it took Hari five. Family circumstances made him take a two-year sabbatical before submitting his final project.
He moved to Mumbai in 2006 where he worked with several production homes. While the work certainly brought in good earnings, Hari felt creatively stifled. He had to compromise a lot due to the industry’s inherent need to choose deadline over quality.
Thus, in 2009, he decided to quit his job and turn his hobby of creating sculptures from electronic waste into a full-fledged profession.
The first sculpture he made
His tryst with building sculptures from everyday scrap began back in 1999 during the NID selection process.
To create an intricate design of a crab and a spider, he cut open table tennis balls and dismantled a defunct transistor sourced from a friend for its chip and bent aluminium hangers. Needless to say, his sense of design and creativity floored the jury and guaranteed his entry into the Institute.
The success sowed the seed of replicating the idea into a full-fledged profession.
Survival wasn’t easy
To put it simply, the first two years burnt through his savings. His idea of creating bigger sculptures and exhibiting them would earn him money crashed to the ground. Leading media houses covered his work, people appreciated it but no one wanted to shell out money to purchase his artwork.
“My bank balance was below average. My friends and relatives started questioning my decision. They would say, ‘Paagal hai tu! Kyun struggle kar raha hai?’ (You are mad. Why are you struggling?). But I did not give up.”
A major breakthrough came after he became the first recipient of the Bajaj Art Gallery fellowship award. Commission projects followed. Within a year, he had set up a state-of-the-art studio in Mumbai.
Till date, he has recycled several tonnes of e-waste to make over 100 sculptures.
His work has been exhibited at T3 terminal of the Delhi airport, art festivals like Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda and even the prestigious Jehangir Art Gallery.
He applied for a booking at Jehangir in 2006 and it took him 10 years to get a booking and be selected by the panel at the Jehangir Art Gallery. When he did, the exhibition had a footfall of more than 3,000 people.
“I took a risk several years ago. But now it has all paid off. Money to me is secondary. What gives me immense satisfaction is that I am giving back to mother-nature by recycling the waste that can be life-threatening to Her. The Swachh Bharat mission may have kicked off in recent years, but I have been running my initiative since 1999.”
He explains the philosophy of his art thus,
“My art is not restricted to the elite circle of art collectors, buyers, curators or critics. From a school kid to a carpenter or even a chaiwallah can understand it. I remember interacting with a four-year-old who was fascinated by one of my sculptures. When I asked the child, ‘What did you understand?’ The child quipped, ‘I see my water gun and toy cars in it.’ Similarly, a carpenter said, ‘I have seen contemporary, modern and abstract art and never understood it. But looking at your work gives me immense happiness because I see everyday objects in it. It is as if I finally understand art.’ These are small instances that give me happiness.”
His mission in life is to not only to exhibit art but raise awareness about reusing e-waste. He hosts regular workshops for young artists to help them emulate the techniques of creating eco-friendly art.
“Technology is growing at a fanatical speed in India. Even before our old phone runs out of use, we line up to buy the latest models. Perhaps, it is time for us to rethink the e-waste that we are generating. This is not to say, don’t buy newer gadgets, but to wait until your current ones run out of use. That’s the least we can do for Mother Earth,” he signs off.
Haribaabu runs a company called Fossilss that executes large scale projects. You can check out his work at http://fossilss.com/
Troubled by water pollution during Ganesh Chaturthi, in 2018, Hari also created a four-feet-tall Ganesha idol. Weighing over 800 kgs, Hari used alum, a natural purifying ingredient to make it. This idol did not contribute to pollution, in fact, it cleaned hundreds of gallons of water where it was immersed.
Want to get in touch with Haribaabu, write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out more pictures below:
(Edited By Saiqua Sultan)