Artist Turns Plastic Bags Into Art

31 July, 2014

Welcome to American Mosaic from VOA Learning English. I'm Caty Weaver.

Making art with found materials is not a new idea. Recycled paper, cloth and metal goods can become important pictures and sculptures. An artist near Washington, D.C. just had her recycled art on exhibit at the Prince George's African American Museum and Cultural Center in Maryland. She uses a material found in every American home.

June Simms reports.

Artist Turns Plastic Bags Into Art
Artist Allita Irby's colorful work was on display at a museum near Washington, D.C.

Plastic bags are not costly to produce. They are also strong and easy to carry. This is why they are a popular container in much of the world.

But they are also a major source of pollution. It can take hundreds of years for plastic bags to break down. As they do, tiny pieces can poison soil, lakes, rivers, and oceans. So, environmental experts urge people to reuse and recycle plastic bags.

Maryland artist Allita Irby does just that. It starts with the morning newspaper.

Ms. Irby will read it later in the day. What is more important is getting that plastic bag the paper comes in.

The mixed media artist recognized its rich possibilities about three years ago.

"As I was taking the newspaper out. I felt the texture of these bags, they were soft. 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. "

Since then, Irby has been using plastic bags to create abstract lines in her art works.

Before incorporating plastic bags in her pieces, Irby used natural materials like feathers, leather and dried plants.

All those elements represent her Native American ancestry and identity, like her piece called "Navaho Bundles."

"I was replicating a hair style, a Navaho hair style when the hair is heavy and it's looped back on itself. I took the piece and looped it back onto itself and secured it with a tie."

Ms. Irby's neighbors praise her ability to turn trash into treasure. Some, like Charlotte Hogan, asked the artist to teach them how to create art from used plastic bags.

"I think it's fascinating, it's wonderful. I do plan to share with my seniors at my church."

Neighbor Aleta Meyer expressed surprise.

"I've never given any more thought to what to do with a plastic bag. This is definitely different."

Shirley Watts also lives in the neighborhood. She plans to show others her art.

"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 anyone can do it.

"I think we're all artists really, and there is beauty all around us."

The artist says all you have to do is open your eyes and bring the outside in.

I'm June Simms.

And I'm Caty Weaver. Join us again next week for another American Mosaic from VOA Learning English.