Kenyan Artist Designs Stunning Eyewear from Unassuming Materials

Where are you from?

I am from Kenya, but people always think I am from Nigeria because my last name is common there as well.

How long have you been a visual artist?

I grew up making toys. I used to make cars or shoes out of tin, wire and plastics. I had to get creative if I wanted my brother’s older friends to let me hang around them. It wasn’t until 2005, after I graduated college, that I became a professional artist.

What inspired you to make eyewear?

My inspiration for eyewear came from my early childhood. My father grew up with an abusive mother; after a few run-ins memories of his broken glasses haunted him. My siblings and I were never allowed to have eyewear for that reason. 

I also find inspiration in nature. I grew up in a place without much national beauty; there was always trash in the streets. It was always an aspiration of mine to breath beauty back into discarded items. 

How would you describe this collection?

This collection is titled C STUNNERS. The C stands for Cyrus, my first name, and STUNNERS because the pieces are meant to challenge to see beyond the items they are constructed out of. 

Does the inspiration come from the items you find, or do you seek out materials to form your vision?

Ideas find me on my drive from my house to my studio, which is 10 to 13 kilometers. Once I find an item, it can sometimes dictate the entire process.

How long is the creation process?

One frame can take anywhere from a day to a month depending on the size and materials used. The biggest frame I ever made was three meters. Bottle caps are a challenging material I have worked with, as they are very difficult to shape. 

How do you know when the piece is complete?

I know a piece is complete when I grow tired of working on it. 

What is the most unassuming piece of material you have used for a frame? Where did you find it?

I used a very intricate motherboard of the an old computer that was dropped off outside my studio. 

In 2013 you were invited to speak at Milan Fashion Week. What was the biggest take away you received from the experience?

I love Milan and Milan loves my work, that’s the connection. They made my work to be known and every one respected it.

While in Milan, what was the most inspiring thing you saw?

I was inspired by the buildings and rich history in Milan.  Their language, which I don’t understand was soothing like a poem.

You stated in a previous interview about your “outreach” initiative to encourage creativity and raising awareness about ecological issues in your country… what progress have you seen in the creative community in Kenya as well as conscious sustainability?

I started the outreach workshops in Kenya recently. The focus is to teach the community how to recycle, which is helping deforestation. I mostly target sculptors and encourage them to use the materials around them. The programs were quite well-received but unfortunately, due to my lack of time they will be put on hold for a year while additional studio space is built. 

How can the eyewear and fashion industry implement sustainability and protecting the environment? What designers efforts do you recognize in their practices for sustainability?

If we use recycled trash in our designs we are giving purpose to products already made. This will save our planet. It seems working with trash today is a fashion trend, which means fashion will preserve nature. 

Aside from creating, what other activities do you enjoy?

I enjoy watching cartoons. Tom and Jerry is my favorite. I also spend a lot of my free time with my dad; he’s very good with stories and somehow he can also solve all my problems. 

Cyrus Kabiru presented his first large scale solo-exhibition titled: C-Stunners and The End of the Black Mamba at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town in January 2015. The gallery also showed his work at the Cape Town Art Fair shortly after. An exhibition of his Black Mambas has been selected as a special project for this year’s FNB Joburg Art Fair in September.  His work will also be exhibited at the ARTISSIMA Fair in Torino, Italy in November 2015. 

Cyrus Kabiru’s work is currently included in Africa - Architecture & Identity at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk, Denmark (25 June - 25 October 2015) and following the successful premier of his film The End of Black Mamba I at the recent LOOP Fair in Barcelona, the film will be showing in Beyond Borders, the 5th edition of the Beaufort Triennial in West Flanders, Belgium from 21 June - 21 September 2015)