News / Arts & Entertainment

Maryland Woman Perfects Art of Recycling Plastic Bags

Artist Turns Plastic Bags into Arti
X
Faiza Elmasry
June 23, 2014 3:01 PM
Plastic bags are so cheap to produce, sturdy and easy to carry that they are the preferred container in much of the world. But they are also a big source of pollution. Artist Allita Irby has found another use for plastic bags by turning trash into art. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Faiza Elmasry
Allita Irby turns plastic bags into art.

About three years ago, the mixed media artist recognized the potential of the plastic bags her daily newspapers came in.

“I was taking the newspaper out and I felt the texture of these bags,' she said. "They were soft and the idea occurred to me. I just looked down and realized it takes three to make a braid. I'll just put a few staples in here just to keep it from unraveling."

She's been using them to create her pieces ever since.

Art of recycling

Beside the beautiful colors and texture, there is another reason she recycles the bags in her artwork. 

“It keeps the plastic bags out of the environment,” she said. “So many times you see the plastic bags on trees, at the side of the road that people have just thrown down. Sometimes these bags find their way into nature, which is very harmful and it can cause death to some animals.”

Before that, Irby used natural materials like dried flowers, botanical and feathers. 

“I'd take these things and I'd bundle them in fabric and tie them up with leather to keep them together," she said.

In all her works, Irby reveals elements of her Native American heritage and identity.  Growing up in Oklahoma gave her a chance to learn and appreciate her ancestors’ art and love for nature.

“Navaho Bundles” is an example. Irby used the bags to replicate a Navaho hair style, in which a long braid is looped and tied almost like a bow. “I took the piece and looped it back onto itself and secured it with a tie and put them on an acrylic painted board and framed in a shadow box."

Another example is “Plaits and Ponytails,” a collection of her work now on display at the African American Museum and Cultural Center in Prince George's County, Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C..  

Museum curator Jon West-Bay says he selected Irby’s collection because of its beauty and uniqueness. He says he likes how Irby weaves together plastic bags to represent braided hair and create abstract lines in her piece. The collection, he says, has attracted people's attention.

“People always think of it as one thing when they’re far away," he said. "And when they get up close, they see it’s plastic bags. And it always sparks a discussion.”

Sharing techniques

Amazed at how she turns trash to treasure, some neighbors asked Irby to teach them how to design and create their plastic bag artworks.  Irby says it was a great opportunity for her to share some skills and thoughts with her community. And her neighbors' feedback is totally positive.

“I think it’s fascinating; it's wonderful," her neighbor Charlotte Hogan said. "I do plan to share with my seniors at my church.”

Aleta Mayer says she's inspired by the artist. "I’ve never given any more thought to what to do with a plastic bag. This is definitely different.”

The idea of reusing the bags fascinates Shirley Watts, a former Girl Scout leader. She announced, “I want to make a masterpiece that I can put in a frame and put it up on my wall and then I know that I did it.”

Allita Irby says it was amazing to see how resourceful and creative her neighbors are.

“I think we’re all artists really, and there is beauty all around us. All you have to do is open your eyes and bring the outside in."

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Enviro-Equipment, Inc. from: North Carolina
June 23, 2014 3:59 PM
Not to split hairs here, but what Ms. Irby is doing isn't recyclingplastic bags, but rather simply using it as an artistic medium. Recycling would be if it was melted down into another product made of plastic.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.