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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Arts meet Science: From Plastic to Microplastic


The Collaborative Research Centre SFB 1357 Microplastics of the University of Bayreuth and the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence among others invited the renowned South African artist Mbongeni Buthelezi for a visit of a special kind. During a unique “Arts meets Science” collaboration Buthelezi worked while representatives of SFB Microplastics educated the public about plastics and microplastics.

The South African artist Mbongeni Buthelezi is known for creating impressive pieces of art. Impressive due to their size – some of them span 15 metres – and impressive due to the artist’s medium of choice. Although they look like oil paintings, Buthelezi’s preferred working material is plastic. He collects his medium of choice wherever he can find it, heats it up and glues it onto canvases creating the most extraordinary artwork in the process.

Creating a dialogue

Giving these scraps of plastic waste a second life as valuable pieces of art Mbongeni Buthelezi wants to convey hope but also create awareness for global society’s socioeconomic problems. The artist explains: “I want to create a dialogue, where we begin to talk about some of the environmental challenges we are all facing. By adding a voice towards resolving the problem, I as an artist am happy to become part of the change and make a contribution, albeit small, in finding a solution.”
His voice was heard loud and clear and created a lot of attention for his cause during his four-week stay in Bayreuth from 10 February to 4 March 2020. Following an invitation of the Collaborative Research Centre (Sonderforschungsbereich/SFB) “Microplastics” of the University of Bayreuth and supported by Iwalewahaus, the “Freundeskreis Iwalewahaus” as well as the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence, Mbongeni Buthelezi spent his stay working and educating the public. He took part in a number of events, first of which was the festive opening of his exhibition and science rallye organized by the SFB Microplastics on 27 February 2020.

Art meets Science

The opening marked the beginning of a very unique collaboration. Mbongeni Buthelezi had joined forces with the SFB Microplastics and from 28 February to 4 March 2020 worked at Iwalewahaus while the Collaborative Research Centre held a science rallye in the same location. The public in general but children especially were invited to watch the artist’s creative process and get to know him in person while finding out interesting information on the subject of microplastics. Five stations presented by PhD students taught participants all sorts of interesting facts ranging from the residue of tire tracks to what kind of plastic may be found in local rivers and lakes.

The event that lasted five days was a great success and culminated in a „Bayreuther Stadtgespräch“ titled „Das Kunststoffzeitalter: Unsachliche Berichterstattungen zum Thema Mikroplastik verunsichern Verbraucher. Was Forscher wirklich (nicht) wissen und zukunftsweisende Lösungsansätze“ on 4 March 2020. Established in 2014 by the University of Bayreuth, this monthly format gives scholars a chance to interact with the interested public. In March, Mbongeni Buthelezi und Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch (SFB 1357 Microplastics) talked about their respective motivation to collaborate and the impact they would like to have on society followed by a public discussion. (sg)

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