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ELECTION 2022

Meet Wong, artist behind plastic sculpture at UN Office in Nairobi

NATIONAL
By Saada Hassan | Mar 6th 2022 | 3 min read

Art Installation showing plastic pollution at UNEP, Gigiri.

At the entrance to the venue of the just concluded UNEA 5.2 meeting, you see a humongous work of art. Plastic bottles are built up in the form of an open water tap, but it is just not an art, it is a symbol and silent advocacy on the need to end plastic pollution.

At the sidelines, a young man dressed in a black vest and dark shorts walks across and asks me what I think about the art. It is splendid, I say.

Meet Benjamin Von Wong, the man behind the artwork.

He is a Canadian artist and an advocate for environmental issues.

“For the last six years, I have been creating projects that raise awareness of single-use plastic pollution.”

The plastic tap symbol is made using more than three tonnes of plastic bottles. According to United Nations, Environmental Programme, (UNEP) about a million plastic bottles are bought per minute and about five trillion plastic bags are used annually across the globe.

“This project, in particular, is under a hashtag called "turn off the plastic tap" which is an invitation that we need to stop plastic production instead of worrying about the downstream consequences of plastics,” says Wong.

Benjamin Von Wong a Visual artist from Canada, with a man from Kibera picking up plastics in Kibera. [Van Wong]

According to a report on the global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution, between 1970s and 1990s, the amount of plastic waste more than tripled.

Fast forward to the 2000s decade, the amount of plastic waste rose further, more than in the previous 40 years.

Wong says that the idea of creating a waste like a tap simply represents how human beings work. “If you left the bathtub tap  on and it is flooding, do you start by getting a mop and cleaning it up or do you start by turning off the tap?” he poses.

“Up to now, we have nine billion tones of plastics produced yearly and the rate of plastic production keeps going up. Creating this piece of art right here where resolutions are drawn and adopted is the right excuse to get people to think and reflect differently about the same problem."

Plastics for the three-tonne installation was collected from Kibera by women who are involved in the Human Needs Project, a non-profit organisation.

“I think everyone knows that plastic is not for the environment, maybe we don’t care so much about it because we have other priorities but I think we all can understand that it is not a good thing,” he adds.

This is not the first art installation that Wong and his team have done. He has showcased his three projects with an intention of creating awareness to end plastic pollution.

“Art has the power to spark new conversations that people would not otherwise have.”

Sadly, half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes, which contributes largely to pollution.

UNEA 5.2 meeting ended successfully with 14 resolutions out of 17 that were proposed, being adopted by the assembly. 

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