Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Turning waste into everyday art

Juicebox Gallery

By Zann H. - May 09, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [environment] [artist] [culture]

“I believe in not waste disposal but waste integration. As we produce waste, we need to integrate it into our community.” This is the mantra which Ala Hilu adheres firmly to in pursuing his work as an 'upcycling’ artist.
Based in the predominantly Palestinian Christian town of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, ReSign for Recycling Design is the brainchild of Ala Hilu. An 'upcycling’ initiative, ReSign is committed to transforming trash into functional items with aesthetic appeal. It is also a part of GREAN (Grassroots environmental action and networking) in Palestine, a network of organisations working hand in hand to build a sustainable future in Palestine.
Always at the forefront of Palestine's environmental movement, Ala Hilu’s inspiration behind 'upcycling’ are manifold. What started out as a hobby became a serious affair when more people requested Hilu to create something useful out of trash, like a chair or a bench.
A training on permaculture which Hilu attended in 2008 made an impact on him as well. He was fascinated by how “nature reuses and multi-purposes everything and how important it is to integrate and be part of the environment”.
With a background on sociology, Hilu started researching on waste and waste culture and consumerism. He realised, he says, that mankind is just wasting so much fortune with waste.
He thinks that we live in communities that “over produce and over consume, instead of having 3 shirts, we have 20 shirts. We have cupboards full of clothes and we barely use 10% of it.”
Another source of Hilu’s inspiration is that “it encourages ideas in your mind,” he quips.
“You see a bottle and you think is it only a bottle or can it become something else? It is a challenge which is very stimulating for my brain to think of how can you change the context of something, the shape of something, the surface of something into something more useful, ” explains Hilu.
Hilu often navigates the web for inspiration, possibilities and ideas. For him, “Upcycling is like an endless potential of many things, like between the way I look at things, the materials and the demands of the market and my passion. Gradually I got dragged into this world and I got like really stuck with this.”
In actual fact, the seeds of 'upcycling’ were sown when Hilu was very young. He reminisces about his childhood, “I remember my grandmother making pillows out of plastic bags. She used to cut the plastic bags into small pieces to make the fillings for pillows or mattresses. I also remember how my siblings and I used to collect bottles to store food for winter, like tomato juice for example.”
Hilu states that, “the whole idea behind capitalism is about consumption, it is about keeping control of the consumers.”
He also places a lot of emphasis on understanding the very nature of material and the nature of waste.
“Dealing with the amount of waste that you are talking about, it is basically going back to the consumers,” Hilu says. “In my understanding, people should not throw waste away but reuse and reintegrate these things. If you want to consume a lot, yeah, use stuff that actually lasts longer, that has higher value that gives service even if you do not want them. This incurs less cost on people and nature.”
Hilu believes that ultimately, “whatever is going to harm nature is going to harm us, in the end if it is not us, it is our children who will suffer.”
Hilu practices what he preaches and this is reflected in how he spent 2 years in order to learn how to cut bottles really precisely. His dedication is evident in how he constantly experiments with waste in order to make a product, “for upcycling, there are gates and ways that I go through to make new products out of waste.”
The passion that Hilu has for 'upcycling’ is not only confined to himself and his craft but his dream is to share his knowledge and expertise. Through crowdfunding, Hilu collected about 6000 USD to fix his training room and studio which took about 2 months.
“The biggest investment in ReSign is the training centre. It is a kind of a research and experimental lab. I am learning to teach and to share information. From 2013 till now, the trainings I have conducted have reached almost 1600 people through direct communication work. Training is one of the best ways of spreading information faster and deeper, it has a direct effect.”
He has conducted several workshops for children and women which serve to empower them. He believes that, “Basically, gender does not matter, anybody can do anything.”
Starting with kids, Hilu teaches them how to 'upcycle’ with waste commonly found in schools or at home such as plastic or paper. He guides them on how to make decorations out of these things, like small planters and even how to do organic gardening. The satisfaction he derives is priceless as he says with pride, “You can see the reactions on the people, especially children when they make something useful out of thrash.”
Besides conducting practical trainings, Hilu also gives talks on the environment. He wants to make people understand how to deal with waste. His final advice is that “to reduce consumption is the best thing, when you buy something, you buy it to serve you for a long time.”


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