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'Slum designer' turns forks into jewelry
02:44 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Kenyan artist uses old cutlery to create rings, bracelets, necklaces

His Nairobi apartment doubles as his workspace and shop

Artist Muturi also works on sculptures made out of knives, forks and spoons

Nairobi, Kenya CNN  — 

In a world where so much goes to waste without a moment’s thought, Kenyan artist Njee Muturi has made a livelihood out of upcycling rejected cutlery and transforming it into striking and inimitable jewelry.

Out of old and unwanted knives, forks and spoons, Muturi crafts artistic and unique rings, bracelets, necklaces, as well as other household items. From his Nairobi home he trades under the name “Zanji Art,” derived from Arabic, meaning “Black Art.”

“Everywhere you go you will find that there’s something that people throw away and they don’t know it can be used,” he says.

Muturi gets the old tableware sent to him in bulk from sources abroad, particularly his brother, a fellow artist. Friends or contacts entering Kenya bring the cutlery into the country, and Muturi pays the duty tax at the airport.

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He sorts it, choosing which items he can work with and putting the rest aside. He then proceeds to clean them and take them to his workshop within the Kibera slum where he solders them, before returning to his apartment to craft the pieces. Once he is done forming the pieces, he then has to tumble them and polish them in order to give them a clean finish and fresh appearance.

“Before I never used to clean them I just used to make it and sell it but I find most people they want to see it’s new,” he explains.

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His workspace is his apartment, where an array of forks, spoons and knives are scattered on the floor, and both finished and unfinished projects dangle on the walls. It is in this pleasantly jumbled cavern, which serves as both his office and shop, that Muturi sells his jewelry. Each piece is exclusive because of the original distinctive design of the cutlery he uses.

“I think it’s fun when you come here and then you see other things, because in the market, there you can’t put everything,” he says.

An experienced craftsman, Muturi makes the pieces with skilled efficiency; the rings take between five and 10 minutes to make, while the larger, more complicated pieces take between 30 minutes and one hour.

“It’s easy for me,” says Muturi. “I see it, I see what I can do even before I start making it.”

Read more: Jewelry made from boiled bones

Muturi sells his durable pieces at competitive prices ranging from $5-10 for the smaller pieces, such as the rings, and $20-40 for the bigger pieces, like the weighty necklaces and bracelets. For his diverse clientele, the chief attraction is that each piece is unique, its form dictated by the form and patterns on the cutlery from which it is crafted.

Among his customers is Siki Kigongo, a postgraduate student at the London School Of Economics, who says: “I love the rings. They’re very original and one of a kind. I love the fact that he takes an everyday object and changes it into a form of jewelry. I buy them because I think they’re different … not the kind of thing you’d come across everyday”

Nshuti Bunyenyezi, a student at Nairobi’s United States International University, says: “There’s definitely something personal about the whole process. It’s not the usual ‘walk into a shop, pick a ring, head to the counter and walk out.’

“I wouldn’t change anything about the pieces, the moment you do it’s no longer Muturi’s”

Muturi hopes to expand his possibilities in future and has already begun working on sculptures made out of cutlery and even masks made out of old trays. He prefers to work with used and unwanted tableware because of its history, individuality and enduring nature.

“It has a way of being with you for a long time,” he says.