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Art of trash: Celebrating South Africa's overlooked waste pickers

a graffiti artist, sprays an artwork on Thapelo's (R), a reclaimer, trolley, as part of an initiative to make their graffiti art mobile   -  
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GUILLEM SARTORIO/AFP or licensors

South Africa

These "reclaimers" are the little hands of the Johannesburg's waste management system.

To help these informal but indispensable workers, and to give them visibility, a collective of artists sprays their trolleys.

The aim is twofold: make them more visible on the road, but also personalise their work tool. A plus in terms of safety for some who are homeless.

"Obviously we live in the streets, people are stealing. If you can steal it it will be simpler for me to get it very quick and fast, see my point. Yeah it's my advantage. Everytime I will put my stuff there, when I see these things (the painting) I will remember this guy," according to Thapelo, an informal reclaimer.

They sort, recover and resell anything of value. Paper, cardboard, plastic and metal above all. For this artist, it is a question of offering a little recognition to those whose role is essential.

"I like my work to have meaning, so when I get to paint and become a part of a project like this it's great for me you know... Cause it's not every day we get to do stuff like this..." expressed Nathi Nzima, aka Inkosi uNathi, artist.

"I feel like one of the biggest challenges is just for residents to make eye contact, like many issues in Johannesburg, to build some sort of relationship you know. And so I think in terms of the bags being sprayed it's just a fun way to create some sort dialogue you know... You then know, "oh yeah, I 've seen that green snake cruising around the city". And then it gives a little bit of identity to that bag and hopefully to that person you know" added Tamzy Botha, aka Limb, artist.

It is also an unusual platform: a different street art where the work is not stuck on a wall, but in perpetual movement.

The aim of the artists' collective behind the project is also to make these anonymous workers recognisable. Johannesburg is a tough city, where the street is not traditionally a place for exchange.

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