For over a decade now, Wesley Denis Chimganda has meticulously devoted his skill in the pursuance of brilliance in metal bottle caps craft.
He is a regular sight at Lilongwe’s ziboliboli (curios) market outside Lilongwe Post Office. He makes objects from the round and rough-edges of bottle caps with such intimacy that they draw admiration and recognition from viewers. A glance at a variety of his works attests to the immense efforts and skills he applies to his craft.
Ever since he developed skills in the craft, Chimganda says he has never “thrown a bottle cap in a trash bin”.
“This type of art and craft is hugely bound by tradition and stifles creative imagination, but since I ventured into it, I have never allowed to be limited by tradition.
“My drive is innovation and I try as much as I can to blend tradition and modernity in my works because most of my customers are foreigners who also like to have a feel of our tradition and culture by sampling my works,” he says.
Chimganda discovered his talent in a bizarre and accidental way.
“It was around 2003 in Dwangwa when I realised that I possess this special talent. Carlsberg Breweries that year organised a promotion where entrants were required to submit bottle top liners in order to stand a chance of winning in the competition. I sent hundreds of liners and remained with a lot of bottle tops.
“I didn’t want to throw them away and from the blues, I found myself putting them together and I produced a doormat. Back then, I was staying with my sister and we were using it at home. Some people encouraged me to make more and later I started selling them.
“After a couple of months I graduated into making a variety of objects such as boxes, picture frames, trays and many more. Today, after almost 13 years into this, I can comfortably say that the business is sustaining my life. I don’t have many complaints,” he states.
Chimganda, who is originally from Kasungu in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Mnjombwa, laments the spirit by most Malawians of not patronising such kind of art and craft as his.
“My major customers are foreigners; I don’t know why Malawians hate art. There’s this indescribable hatred between Malawians and art which I don’t understand. A Malawian will only come at my bench, commend me for a great talent, but they won’t buy. These are just decorative items and not all who buy, for instance a tray, will use it as a tray, but it’s just to decorate their living rooms,” says Chimganda.
Despite the lukewarm response to his craft by Malawians, some sections of the society do recognise his works.
“I have attended several art exhibitions. In fact, some exhibition organisers collect my stuff for display when the exhibitions are taking place far from here.
“I must also recognise the encouragement I receive from environmentalists who say I am contributing to environmental preservation because this is one way of recycling—making use of items that are counted as of no use,” explains Chimganda.
Environmentalist Chifundo Dalireni of Lilongwe agrees and observes that efforts such as Chimganda’s need to be recognised and supported because they are environmental friendly.
“Apart from the artistic side of it, this is one way of conserving the environment. We must bear in mind that when people like Chimganda produce their crafts they are putting back to reclaim the environment. It’s also important that these people be supported to take part in arts festivals,” he says.