Thirty-six-year-old Dhiraj Sharma is a soft-spoken, diffident man. But get him started on the subject of his artworks created from waste and he is positively loquacious. “It’s difficult to get me to stop once I start talking about junk art,” he laughs.
His fascination with junk art took root at an early age. “As a 12-year-old, I would take apart appliances like the television or tape recorder and see what I could do with them. My parents too encouraged me once they saw my interest.”
In Dhiraj’s world, all kinds of waste transforms into art. Screws from a drawer, a nut and an old earring combine to form a still camera, a toothbrush becomes the head of a figure and half a table tennis ball becomes a bowl.
Most impressive of all is his favourite piece and the one that required the most effort: Buddha seated under the Tree of Enlightenment created with 800 used cells and over 600 old watch dials sourced from repair shops. The blue background is part of a door sourced from a junkyard with the cracks filled in with clay and plaster of Paris.
While in college, Dhiraj studied Computer Science and became interested in using discarded electronic hardware to create artworks and in 2006, a year after graduating, he launched his website — 8mango.com. “The idea was to display artworks created from everyday discarded material such as plastic straws, floppy disks, and CDs.”
As for that unusual name — 8mango, Dhiraj says, “My mother came up with it. The very first artwork that I thought I could put up on the website was the face of Albert Einstein made out of a mango seed. So, it is also ‘ate’ like ‘I ate a mango’.”
After starting work as a computer graphics artist in animation, he continued making time over the weekends and staying up nights to create artwork out of e-waste.
In December 2008, Dhiraj got a call from IIT Bombay to exhibit his works for their fest, MOOD-i. “That was the turning point. I even created a mascot from e-waste for their tech fest.”
Since setting up his website, he has created crafts for 70 episodes of a national show focussing on creating art from waste; made a 10ft x 10ft image of APJ Abdul Kalam with around 300 old X-ray sheets for TEDxHyderabad; and in February this year, was a panellist and exhibitor at the inaugural Recommerce Expo, an exhibition-cum-conference of refurbished electronic products, held in Bengaluru. He even made around 100 clocks from old CDs, laptop chargers and keyboard keys that were presented to the dignitaries at the expo.
Dhiraj, who currently works as a UX designer at a startup, says that inspiration can strike any time. “I saw a mannequin lying on the road so I took the hands. I already had a keyboard so now I have combined the two. It’s like a puzzle; the more waste I collect, the more ideas I get. Right now, I do work for corporates also. The best part is using what they discard as e-waste and creating art or making something that has utilitarian value.”
As for why people need to become more environmentally conscious, he says: “The amount of waste being discarded is enormous. We need to take steps to change things. Though what I’m doing is on a small scale, the idea is to generate awareness. Now, even my three-year-old son tells the domestic help, ‘Don’t throw that away. I will make something’. That is my reward.”
(Collaborations can be done through the website or email email@example.com. The artworks are priced at ₹2,000 onwards)