A compelling and unique perspective on the world, work and environmental value of informal street recyclers in Johannesburg emerges through the response of visual artist Jacki McInnes and the voices and lives of the recyclers themselves - their experiences and their dreams.
A unique and compelling perspective on the world, work and valuable environmental contribution of informal street recyclers emerges through the visual response of artist Jacki McInnes and the voices and lives of the recyclers themselves: their experiences, dreams - and our common humanity. South Africa has one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, where excessive wealth contrasts starkly with mass unemployment, poverty and displacement. In this grossly unequal world, the poor must become increasingly resourceful just to survive. Informal recycling of society's trash is one of the few accessible means by which they can generate an income. Jacki McInnes made contact with a community of informal recyclers early in 2009. Many were foreigners - illegal Basotho immigrants - and amongst the most marginalised people living in the city. Dirty Money, originating in her research and art, will both extend her art to a larger audience and explore the world and work of informal recyclers with greater understanding, appreciation and respect. As director Peter Goldsmid puts it, "For informal recyclers, their work is primarily about self-preservation. But most of them know that what they do has value for the environment. At the same time they operate in harsh, unregulated and unhealthy conditions. Dirty Money will personalise their situation, allowing audiences to engage with them as individuals, share their world, their entrepreneurial spirit, their camaraderie - and their dreams for a better life. It will also raise hard questions about the social and economic context in which they have to work." McInnes' aesthetic response to the recycler's work provides a further, unique perspective. "My art is a memorial to their thankless yet valuable role. My crafted lead objects - replicating cans, polystyrene punnets and plastic bottles - become tokens: both to the permanence of man's collective, devastating impact on the planet and to the positive environmental role played by informal recyclers." But McInnes' work also challenges the role and purpose of art in society - she wants to change attitudes, not decorate walls. Dirty Money will help overcome the misconceptions and mutual mistrust that sustain the gulf between the 'haves' and these 'have-nots'. It will find inspiration and hope in the resourcefulness and daily courage of ordinary people surviving and finding community in a world most of us would find intolerable. It will illustrate the telling irony that such an important environmental lesson is provided, not by those with everything at stake, but by those who, quite simply, have absolutely nothing to lose.