Made from a combination of plastics and aluminum with organic matter inside, coffee pods are not biodegradable. Coffee pods contribute to a global environmental disaster, with billions of the sleek aluminum and plastic capsules ending up in landfills in America, Europe, Australia and other coffee drinking nations each year. Mariska Nell, a South African designer and an artist based in Dubai, uses coffee pods and candy wraps in her paintings and artefacts to educate people.
Mariska talks to SEEMA SANGRA of The Eco Journal about her art, paintings and efforts to inspire people to adopt a sustainable lifestyle.
What draws you towards making art out of recyclable household items?
The environment is something that is very close to my heart, and I feel by reusing items that would have ended up in a landfill gives me a sense of accomplishment. I try to provide these items with a second chance, and at the same time contribute towards the betterment of our environment a little bit.
How long does it take for you to collect and clean those coffee pods?
I started by collecting and cleaning my used coffee pods for the first few months and realized that I would need a lot more if I wanted to create something exquisite. I contacted friends, family, and companies around Dubai using Nespresso and in about three months I had enough pods to create my very first “Coffee Addiction Lamp” made from 913 pods. I still do regular pickups around Dubai to maintain my supply and stop these pods ending up in a landfill. I also want to encourage people to avoid single-use product packaging.
Which piece of art from your collection is your personal favorite?
That is a tough question, as I love all my work. But if I had to choose, there are a few pieces that I hold very dear to my heart. The two pieces in my new collection are “Coffee Addiction Lamp” and “Reuse, Recycle, Rehumanize”. There is also a painting I did in memory of my late father; it’s called “I’ll always have someone watching over me”. I also created two pieces that I have donated to charity. “On Route To Uhuru” was part of a silent auction for Warriors for Willow to raise funds for research to find a cure for MSD, while “Every Drop Counts” is a piece that is part of a Surge event to raise funds to invest in communities through safe water and sanitation solutions.
What kind of stories do you tell through your art?
My work is a story of life. The majority of my pieces tell stories of my travels, people I see and meet, values they hold. I have also completed a few commission pieces where I narrate stories dear to my clients by turning their family memories into art. Companies also approach me to create art that represents their core values and ethos.
Who and what inspires you on a day to day basis?
Travel. I have always been fascinated with traveling. I feel so enriched every time I visit a new destination and to be able to experience how the local people live, their beauty, love, ambitions and how they protect their siblings, families, nation, and culture. It is in these moments that I get my inspiration from. For example – The little girl I photographed on our farm with her cupcake, the beautiful woman behind Reuse, Recycle, Rehumanize“ and my husband while roaming the streets of Havana. I am also inspired to create art for people and organizations that do good. Most times I see inspiration in the most unexpected places.
How hopeful are you about the uptake of recycled materials in art and design?
The optimistic side of me is screaming YES. I hope to contribute to increasing this, and many companies, cafes and restaurants are joining me as well. I am also exhibiting my art in restaurants and coffee shops to raise awareness around recycling and show coffee connoisseurs the beautiful artwork that can be created from coffee capsules. Clients who commission work from me sometimes bring their sentimental pieces they could have thrown away. What I also realise is that my effort is only a drop in the ocean, but if we all participate, we can collectively create a recycling culture. It’s a matter of asking yourself, how can I help to reduce, reuse and recycle?
To connect to see more of Mariska’s work, please follow her on Instagram on @DesignbyMariska
Mariska’s paintings with Nespresso coffee pods and candy wraps