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Embodying the DIY Spirit in Our Creative Projects - Part 1: Eco-Friendly Ethos

When you hear the words “do it yourself,” what comes to mind? Ripped clothing, pieced together by way of safety pins, or maybe an ambitious home renovation project? Or perhaps ear piercings done with needles and ice in a friend’s basement? Or how about punk music, independent films, avant-garde fashion, and community-based upcycled parks? Whatever the myriad manifestations have looked — or sounded — like, the DIY spirit has been fueling artistic practices and movements the world over for as long as humans have been wandering Earth.

Mosaic tile from recycled materials in the Nek Chand Rock Garden.

A DIY mosaic created from re-used waste, made by Indian artist Nek Chand as part of his Rock Garden. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

As further proof of this unbreakable, hands-on spirit in recent times, we can look to the birth of punk; to movements in innovative, low-budget filmmaking; and to the rise of eco-friendly, creative projects with a focus on sustainable action. In all cases, the DIY spirit revolves around a few central ideas: a burning desire to manifest something; determination to do so through innovation; the will to express emotions through creativity; and the motivation to ask people for help or support when needed.

Additionally, one of the wonderful built-in side effects of most DIY projects is that they are usually sustainable and eco-friendly in nature. Even if the artist or DIY-er isn’t consciously thinking about saving the environment, the ethos behind DIY projects naturally encourages people to reduce, re-use, recycle, and upcycle in order to manifest their visions. Today, we’ll begin to explore some of the fundamental — and inspirational — concepts that fuel the DIY spirit — and hopefully kick-start our own projects.

Upcycled animals in Nek Chand's Rock Garden.

Nek Chand’s innovative animals made from recycled materials sit in his handmade Rock Garden — a community oriented, DIY project that has spanned over forty years. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Sustainable, eco-friendly creations

DIY goes hand-in-hand with sustainable practices: when we’re on a tight budget (either by force, or by choice), we naturally gravitate toward re-using materials, or finding new functions for old items. Additionally, the DIY spirit also lends itself to creative innovation — after all, necessity is the free-spirited mother of invention, right? Ironically, being forced to work under constraints often increases our creativity, as opposed to limiting it. Our budget might be small, or our methods seemingly odd, but the result might just be something that no one else has ever made before! And these days, with our abundance of technology and available information, that’s a significant accomplishment.

Upcycled jewellery and fashion

Two recent examples of the eco-friendly spirit of DIY projects fall under the umbrella of fashion — an industry that is usually regarded for its waste, rather than its environmental consciousness: consumerism, materialism, and superficiality are typically the ideals that much of the industry unfortunately promotes. Nonetheless, fashion gives an equal opportunity to create eco-friendly clothing and accessories through personal vision and novel use of materials.

Paper beads by artist Sanaa Gateja.

These colorful beads are actually made from waste! The power of eco-art exists in its ability to transform trash into art. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Sanaa Gateja, a revered East African artist, has been making beautiful paper beads for most of his long-term artistic career. Although these beads can now be found in many places around Asia and Africa, Gateja is thought to be the original innovator of this eco-friendly technique. Inspired by the spirit of eco-art and a desire to empower women within his community, he created a method of making pretty beads from rolled strips of old newspaper. Not content to keep the practice to himself, he taught underprivileged women in Ugandan villages how to make the beads, create jewellery, and sell their goods for profit. The beads are also used to make items like bowls or handbags.

In a similar vein, eco-friendly fashion designers in Nairobi, Kenya, “often use upcycling to create looks that provide a fresh modern twist on traditional fashion (…)” By reconstructing old clothing into new designs, East African fashion designers are creating inspired, sustainable looks. While there are many eco-friendly designers working all over the world, we need to do our part to find ones in our local area whom we can support. Or, we can always take their cue and try making some DIY fashions ourselves.

An upcycled paper bead by artist Sanaa Gateja.

A bead made from recycled materials, by artist Sanaa Gateja, is beautiful partly because of its unique appearance, and partly because of its eco-friendly fabrication. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Another colorful example is Nek Chand’s charming, unique Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India, which shows us the possibilities that exist when we have a desire to create something bigger than ourselves. Chand began constructing animals from recycled materials by himself over forty years ago; he started the “garden secretly in his spare time in 1957.” From there, a beautiful, sustainable community park was born. The space now serves several functions: it is a tourist attraction, a local gathering area, and proof of eco-art’s limitlessness. The Rock Garden is a classic DIY project, as Chand started with virtually nothing, entirely on his own, with discarded materials that he found around the city — all this effort simply to manifest his vision.

A colorful wall made from recycled materials in Nek Chand's Rock Garden.

Nek Chand used old, broken dishes to decorate the walls of his sustainable Rock Garden. Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how the DIY spirit helps to create communities like Burning Man, and spurn revolutionary movements in mediums such as film. Remember that the DIY ethos can apply to any field — from permaculture to music to food; whatever your area of passion, there’s always a way to bring in the DIY spirit. So go ahead, roll up your sleeves, and get dirty — there are inventions waiting to be brought to life, new styles ready to be worn, and countless people wanting to support a spirited, creative project.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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