Trashy Art

Recycled student African artwork painting.

Recycled art by students, ages six to ten, at a local school includes everything from the Ghana flag in green, yellow and red to a cell phone.

My favorite project has been these change purses–you can see why:

These change purses give kids a chance to create art, clean up Ghana, and learn at school

GGYN student with trashy bags painted change purse

Kofi, from GGYN, shows a beatiful Ghana Flag painting that will be sewn into a change purse by Trashy Bags

African Art Stand's colorful painted sachets, soon to be sewn into change purses by Trashy Bags.

Princess, a GGYN student, adds her painting to the sachets drying in the sunshine.

Trashy Bags will sew this painting into a beautiful change purse.

Issac, a student from a school in Hattso, is paints...funds raised from this school will go to build a community library.

In Ghana, Africa you can’t drink tap water. Everyone buys bags, called “pure water,” and when they are done, they throw them away in the street…or gutter…or bushes. There are plastic bags everywhere. They clog the gutters (causing flooding and malaria) and animals eat them and die. But the bags you see are now beautiful. They are made by schoolchildren like Esther, who love painting them (art is not taught in school and supplies are too expensive), and sold so that they can pay for school fees, especially since education is not free in Ghana—kids pay entry fees, and for uniforms, and books. While painting, the kids learn to care for their environment.

Painting a butterfly at GGYN, where funds raised will support a breakfast program.

Painting a butterfly at GGYN, where funds raised will support a breakfast program.

Recycled Art with African Art Stands: Students painting in School

Students from Challenging Heights School in Winneba paint sachets.

African Art Stands is working with Child’s Cry Foundation International (CCFI), a Ghanaian after school creativity and technology program, to go into schools and teach them about pollution and recycling (an environmental movement is in its infancy in Ghana). We set up a recycling program so that the kids collect their own sachets, and then teach them to paint on the plastic. Afterward, the colorful sachets are turned into change purses by Trashy Bags. The change purses, in turn, raise money for the kids.

Painted plastic water sachets dry on the classroom floor.

Through CCFI, each child gets a bank account. When they reach high school, they can use the money to pay for school fees–education is NOT free in Ghana–or books. Education usually ends (often around middle school) for lack of money. With Global Ghana Youth Network, the money supports a breakfast program (kids usually come to school hungry) or for a volunteer school for youth at risk of child trafficking (with Challenging Heights).

Painting water sachets with a student in Ghana

Prince, at GGYN, takes a break from painting.

We have a blast. Or, at least, I do.

Recycled art: trashy painting with water sachets by Kisseman School.

Butterfly painting, a beautiful example of recycled artwork.

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Trashy Bags

Trashy Bags is a stellar example of an innovative way to tackle a pervasive problem: they make beautiful and useful products out of common trash. Trashy Bags employs 60 tailors and seamstresses, and since its founding in 2007 has picked up 20 million sachets from the streets of Ghana.

Grace sews a pocket of a messenger bag for Trashy Bags.

Grace sews a pocket of a messenger bag for Trashy Bags.

Joseph at Trashy Bags.

Joseph turns try sachets inside out. He's wearing a home-made hat, sewn at Trashy Bags.

Trashy Bags makes many products, from lap top cases to wallets, shoulder bags and shopping bags. Their website is

The messenger bag at Trashy Bags, a beautiful example of up-cycling.

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The search for beautiful beads for bracelets took me all over Ghana, from Accra (the home of TK Beads) to the Volta Region (where Cedi’s Bead Factory is located) to the famous West African Bead Market in Kofuridua. The finished products of handmade recycled glass bead bracelets are shown below.

Ghanaian Glass bracelents

Recycled glass bead bracelets made from crushed glass bottles and pigment.

Bead bracelets.

Recycled glass bead bracelets.

At Cedi’s bead factory, workers showed the entire process, from crushing glass bottles, to painting designs on the beads, to firing them in a kiln made with old car parts and termite mound mud.

At Cedi's bead factory, one of the artisans shows us the molds that they put crushed glass powder into to form beads. When the beads are semi-liquid, they poke the holes in them.

Polishing the beads means scrubbing them with water and sands to grind off any irregularities.

The West African Bead Market is held under the blazing sun every Thursday in a little town on the trade route between Accra and Kumasi.

West African Beads Market

Strings of waist beads, which women use for jewelry around their waist, wrists, and ankles, shine in the sun.

West African Beads Market

Beads displayed for sale in the bright sunshine.

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Nortelokko paints prolifically, often all night. His passion is evident in the quantity and diversity of his canvases, on which he paints both abstract, impressionistic, and realistic works. He explained that a painter always has to be doing new things and trying new ideas. “If you stop growing as a painter,” he advised, “you should stop… you need to keep learning and trying new things.”

Nortelokko painting of Maasia of East Africa

Norte often paints the Maasia people of East Africa.

Nortelokko fishing boat.

Nortelokko's people are Ga, which come from the coastal areas of Ghana and traditionally fish.

Larger view of Nortelokko’s Maasai painting. 

Nortelokko's "The mountains are alive in Alaska."

Nortelokko--always adaptable-- painted the mountains of Alaska for me. The work is titled, "The mountains are alive in Alaska."

A recent graduate from art school in Accra, Titi originally went to school for textiles before he discovered painting.

Nortelokko works on a joint painting of a Ghanaian market with a student, me, who he was teaching to use a pallette knife.

Nortelokko enjoys painting abstracts, like the Ghanaian master Wiz Kudor.

The eyes and profiles in Nortelokko's paintings add depth to the abstracts.

An abstract of Nortelokko's in green.

A whimsicle landscape from Ghana, which Norte calls "imagination painting."

Another imagination landscape.

Mountains and a blue and yellow sky.

Beautiful clothing is a sign of status in Ghana, and often depicted in paintings.

A city scape of Ghana, with figures characteristic of Accra.

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Robert Anim

Robert Anim has a cramped but colorful studio from the compound of his house in the center of Accra. He’s quick to smile and quick to assure you that his paintings sell quickly–especially the fish style. He also loves painting in abstract, especially if he can incorporate the symbols unique to Ghana.

Robert Anim's brown fish.

Anim often paints fish, for their beauty and symbolism, in different colors.

Anims variation on fish painting in sea green.


Anim paints Cape Coast

Anim paints Cape Coast, a city in the Western region of Ghana on the Atlantic Ocean

An abstract by Anim, showing his trademark circles and repeating lines in bright colors.

This patchwork painting of Anims shows symbols like the crocodile which have meanings in Ghana. For example, a heart symbolizes "know your roots," and a turtle, because it lives both in the water and land, conveys adaptability.

 Anim’s paintings come from his imagination, and he’s quite prolific.

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Bernice and her bags

Bernice in her shop, with bags shown behind her.

I met Bernice at an art fair last fall, and stopped by her shop the other day. Bernice picked me up from the corner near her shop– I was struggling to follow her directions– and cheerfully lead me back to her colorful displays of handicrafts.

Bernice makes bags, beautiful bags, as well as quilted pillowcases, aprons, and clothes from bright batik fabric. She’s always making something new. “When one has a creative mind, she has to keep making things,” Bernice told me. She’s looking to spread her wings to other countries, and she deserves to. Bernice employs four workers, all mothers, because she knows how difficult it is to feed a family of growing children.

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Billy B. B.

Billy B. B. has a stand in the corner of the Arts and Culture Center, from which he displays his vibrant paintings.

Billy B. B.'s drummer.

Billy B. B. paints a drummer in his vibrant colors with the energy so often found in West African paintings.

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