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The art in recyclism – Zayd Menk

Waste management and recycling is an enormous task which involves both logistical planning and scientific knowledge in order to balance the impact on the environment and the cost effectiveness of the process. Recycling of waste product to a great extend can help conserve our planet’s natural beauty. It not only helps in conserving our natural resources but also reduces the cost of many manufacturing products.

Electronics waste is growing exponentially. With technological advancements, new electronic devices replace existing ones, making older versions obsolete. Disposal of electronics or electronic components, commonly known as e-waste, creates severe ecological problems due to the toxic elements used in their components.

The act of ‘E-cycling’, reusing or distributing electrical equipment for use instead of disposing them is one of the effective methods for the recycling of e-waste. E-cycling encourages people to reduce, reuse and recycle rather than disposal of these items prematurely when upgrading to newer products.

Over the many years we have seen sculptures made from ‘trash.’ An alternate artistic approach to items that we discard daily makes us think. This is where Zayd Menk sets us an example by reflecting his thoughts on the art of ‘Recyclism’.

Recyclism of e-waste

Not many of us are aware of recycling electronic waste. In this fast pacing era, people usually dumb those non-functioning systems or machines and get updated with the newer versions. Through the years we have seen all sorts of creative designs that are made of material we often take for granted.

Zayd Menk, the 17 year old art scholar from Zimbabwe, created a meticulous scale model of New York City’s midtown Manhattan out of recycled e-waste such as motherboards, various CPU bits and components from many gadgets. Zayd Menk spent three months working on this 165 by 80 cm model of Midtown Manhattan.

His work of art was part of his school project, which used a plethora of electronic bits and pieces to build the reduced model. All the used electronics, plus lots of math and scouring of the internet, came together in Menk’s project in an art form which he refers to as ‘Recyclism’.

An inspirational project

Zayd Menk’s Scale Model of Manhattan, was part of his art coursework project for his school. As the topic was ‘man-made’ he was exploring on how man-made junk can be used to make art. After much deliberation and data research, Menk decided to reincarnate a scale model of Manhattan using nothing but only trash.

Even though, it was a part of a school project, this model inspired many hearts. Zayd Menk, spent three months building to scale NY City’s most densely populated borough. The creation is seen in 0.0635:100 scale, wherein the piece features 263 sticks of hot glue, 11 CPU’s, 27 motherboards, 10 CRT monitor motherboards, 18 sticks of RAM, 15 batteries, 12 Nokia E-series phones, 4 watches, 3 hard drives, 2 clocks, 4 audio cards, 7 power supplies, 13 floppy disk readers, 2 telephones and many other pieces of recycled tech hardware. All of the skyscrapers and buildings, such as the Bank of America tower, are mathematically sound and the Empire State Building even lights up using 4 LEDs.

Road to success

It was not an easy task for Menk. It was his hardwork and dedication which paved way to the success of this model. In an interview, Zayd said that “I’ve always thought that the tiny components on PCBs (printed circuit boards) look like small cities, so I think it was some sort of subconscious thing that just clicked in my head”. He spent three months gathering e-materials, researching and analysing data and assembling various components to set up his model.

In order to work out mathematically-sound location and sizes for the buildings that make up Midtown Manhattan, this student from Harare used the likes of Wikipedia and Google Maps. Once he learned the necessary information to scale heights of each building, Menk then hand cut the recycled parts. To source the materials, he asked around friends, family and those tied to his school. Once, the project was completed, the response he received online was overwhelmingly positive. There have been lot of positive comments encouraging him to create similar art works, which indeed keeps him motivated and focused.

Excelling challenges

Zayd Menk initially faced lot of challenges while designing this model. Originally, his plan was to create a model on a local city in Zimbabwe, but, he had to change his plan as there was not enough information available on the buildings in Zimbabwe. Menk then shifted his focus and decided to use Midtown Manhattan because of its iconic structure in terms of skyscrapers.

In his research, Menk started his brainstorming by browsing sites like Pinterest and Reddit. He then consulted websites like Google Maps and Wikipedia for data on the height of buildings. Some buildings proved particularly challenging mainly because of their unique shapes.

According to him, constructing the 1,200-foot Bank of America building was particularly challenging. “I remember the Bank of America tower took me two days to make, trying to figure out all those different angles”, recollects Menk. He spent his spare-time-googling and repetitive-calculating, sawing and gluing trying to figure out all those different angles. After collecting the data and calculating the scale, he used a hacksaw to cut all the pieces, and hot-glue to stick them all together.

The next challenge which Menk faced was the restriction of a proper work place. He said that “When I first started, I didn’t really have a place to work, so I was using the dining room. This understandably frustrated my family, causing them to build a garden shed for me to work in”. However, his family members were all very supportive and excited throughout the building process.

Creativity in passion

Not every artist works with paint and canvas. Zayd Menk developed a passion for art towards the beginning of his high school. Art was a compulsory subject for the first two years of high school and it was during those days, he realized his hidden passion and has been enjoying it ever since. His creative process consists of browsing through sites like Pinterest and Reddit, saving things and trying to develop and come up with ideas that are interesting and unique. Taking into account the actual heights of the buildings and the spacing between them, Menk crafted something accurate, colourful and mighty impressive, which turned out to be inspiring art work for many.

New age impacts of digitalisation

The Global south has been witnessing digitalization in areas of health, education, e-government, agricultural programmes, mobile banking applications as well as ICT infrastructure. Digitisation- Migration from analogue to digital technology will help to bridge the digital divide between the emerging markets and developed economies. Menk agrees to the idea of digitization and is in par with the effort the country is bringing in to close the digital divide. On that note, he also stresses on the part that, the Government should focus on the less privileged society and they should be provided with the access to information technology, which will provide them a broader perspective of life and lead to the progress of the country.

Innovation at its best

Menk, who is currently attending Upper Six at St John’s College in Harare, says that modelling something out of waste materials was a novel experience for him. Even though he is a member of Art and Mechanic Club at school and has a passion towards sketching, he has never attempted to build something creative out of scraps. Seeing the immense response, Menk believes that he would be able to contribute similar art works in the future.

Recycling e-waste globally

With nearly each passing day, technology becomes more and more integrated into our daily lives. While this has made our lives and the way we communicate more convenient, tons of e-waste are dumped on a daily basis adding up to the degradation and serious environmental risks. The only solution to e-waste will be Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Recycling raw materials from end of life electronics is the most effective solution to the growing e-waste problem. As a result, it saves energy, reduces pollution and amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacturing of new products, saves resources by extracting fewer raw materials from the earth, and also plays a significant role in creating employment leading to economic growth.

Zayd Menk believes that recycling of e-waste is clearly a strong environmental move. Through used electronics recycling, the parts within each device that are salvageable can be reused in the manufacturing process. Menk’s main intention while creating the artwork was to highlight the issue of e-waste and raise awareness on the grave importance of this real issue. He is delighted to know that his work has motivated minds and have brought in forth the importance of recycling e-waste.


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