A Zimbabwe man who turns restaurant trash into treasure shows that perseverance and creativity can conquer the most seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Ishumael Mhike, 37, says he has pulled himself and members of his family out of poverty with his creative art pieces, which he makes by snipping, bending and manipulating aluminum cans of Coca-Cola and other scraps into metal menageries and vehicles.
Mhike was selling his artwork in Cape Town, South Africa, when an attacker shot him, damaging his spine with a bullet and leaving him confined to a wheelchair.
Mhike admits the road to recovery after the 2001 incident, which left him without use of his legs, was mentally and physically difficult. But the most painful part of the healing process was watching the way his friends and family were affected.
“Everybody used to feel pity about me,” he recalls. “To give courage to everybody, I decided to return my workshop, to work again for myself, in 2013.”
Now a self-employed metal worker who uses his fingers rather than torches, Mhike carefully cuts strips from aluminum cans with sharp scissors, making what he calls “can string.” He uses the strips to bind scraps to a wire frame, turning out surprisingly delicate animals, instruments and vehicles with moving parts.
A dragon with glistening scales and wings looks ready to leap into the air. Coca-Cola-can scorpions appear about to pinch and strike, while giraffes arch their long necks to reach branches with delicate tin leaves.
He displays his artwork in a shopping mall near Victoria Falls, the very place where he also gets his raw materials.
“That same mall, there are two restaurants where all the soft drink empty cans come from, and instead of them putting (them) in the bin, they put in my box of collection,” he explains.
Mhike says his art is a necessary pursuit.
“This art helped me so much by paying rent, food, clothing,” he says. If sales are particularly high, he sends money to other members of his family to “help them live well.”
According to Mhike, though he may not be rich, his art has saved his life in ways less tangible than food and shelter.
“Making art helped me for survive,” he says. “When I make some sales, I keep on strengthening myself, telling myself I will make it.”
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