E-waste is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. It can be defined as the waste left behind from electronic devices, including smartphones, gaming consoles and any other device that depends on electricity. The United Nations defines E-waste “as any discarded product with a battery or plug, and features toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, that can pose severe risk to human and environmental health.”
The World Economic forum considers E-waste as the fastest growing stream of waste in the world, as in 2021, 57.4 million metric tons were produced throughout the year. With an environmental hurdle this large, the world must consider solutions for a more sustainable world. One artist, Nagasako Mago not only considers such a solution, but plays an active role in manifesting it.
Mago, a Japanese born artist, has used his talents of art to reuse e-waste into paintings that share the tragic realities of e-waste and its consequences. In doing so, Mago has directly addressed the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of Climate Action and Responsible Consumption by reusing waste that would otherwise lead to environmental decay to make pieces of art that transcend their mere physical attributes. He has effectively used his talents to not only inspire hope to the future of climate action, but actively engages in authentic methods to act in the face of it.
Growing up in Tokyo, Mago, although underprivileged, was not aware of the conditions some people overseas lived within. On a trip to Ghana, Mago befriended a group of “burner boys,” workers who worked at electronic dump sites and inhaled many toxic fumes as a consequence of their work, as shared in an article with Nippon. Before going back home to Japan, he asked his new friends if he could take some of the waste back with him, and eventually decided to take more than 50 kilograms home. When home, he painted a work that shed a light on the horrifying conditions of those workers in Ghana.
This untitled artwork depicts a burner boy in the center with a gas mask on his face, with the left side fading into the background, almost to portray the immediacy of his situation. On the frame of the painting, electronic waste, such as a keyboard, gaming controller, motherboards and cell phones all surround the burner boy. In a world where these items are commonplace in the lives of most people, one can often forget just how harmful the waste they produce can be for the environment and other human beings. Being more mindful of our electronics’ waste seems to be the very message that touched the heart of Mago. After the making of this painting, he has been receiving many regular shipments of e-waste from Ghana to continue making art and bringing attention to this wide scale issue.
One work in particular demonstrates Mago’s continued commitment to a more sustainable world free of the dangers of E-waste. Lake of Truth II depicts a similar structure as the last painting, but instead the subject is a child, and the E-waste surrounds them not by the frame alone, but on the entirety of the canvas. This contemplation on E-waste and its potential to cause generational torment is one that Mago undergoes regularly. When writing about the long-term aim of his work, in an interview with Work Mill Magazine, Mago expressed that he one day hopes his art can no longer be made. That the shipments of E-waste someday cease completely. He believes not the art alone, but the business model of sustainable capitalism that supports it, is the way to put a stop to the generational torment of E-waste once and for all.
Mago defines sustainable capitalism as “The sustainable cycle of culture, economy, and social contribution or CSV (Creating Shared Value).” By buying a piece of sustainable art, one is acquiring a work that resonates with them, helping the local communities in connection with those works, the economic demand for said pieces and contributing to a culture where buying sustainable art is commonplace. By providing value to all parties involved, to Mago, Is the way E-waste will eventually be overcome.
Below is another one of Mago’s pieces. Looking into the eyes of the subject gives one an almost frightening sense of responsibility. With art like the type Mago makes, we are reminded of how we can improve our own habits. When purchasing products, from art, clothing, furniture and technology, being mindful of the impacts it has on the planet and humankind can be the difference between protecting the environment and destroying it. With a duty as grand as addressing climate change, individual choice can make a difference. In the same way Mago has, we all have the capacity to amend our behaviours in the face of the climate crisis.