Trash talk: upcycled fashion in Kinshasa

Trash talk: upcycled fashion in Kinshasa

Around the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, performance artists are making a bold statement


Fashion, art, activism and the surreal collide on Kinshasa’s streets / Image: Colin Delfosse

Florence Derrick

Florence is a travel writer and author of London Like a Local, a DK Travel guidebook. She contributes to Culture Trip, Conde Nast Traveller, and more.

Along the potholed tarmac road, a string of faceless figures proceed in single file to a chaotic drumming accompaniment. Cars and motorbikes squeeze by as the characters shimmy and swagger to the beat, dressed head-to-toe in colourful fabrics and shiny cylinders – which, on closer inspection, turn out to be shreds of old T-shirts and empty tin cans. This is Kinshasa’s performance art festival KinAct, featuring the Ndaku art collective, who work with industrial and household waste.

“I’ve been working in the DRC for many years,” says Belgian photographer Colin Delfosse, who captured the photo series published here. “I met a street performer who introduced me to around 30 artists organising the festival, and I started to meet them and take their portraits.

“There are more than 17 million people in Kinshasa but there’s no electricity or water in the neighbourhoods where people live. These artists are using trash to talk about these difficulties, related to pollution and infrastructure.”

A candid statement: Eddy Ekete / Image: Colin Delfosse

Artist Eddy Ekete poses in his costume made from discarded cans in Kinshasa’s Limete commune, as “a way of making people aware of the environment”. Ekete is the founding member of the Ndaku art collective, and he is also the brains behind KinAct festival. Most artists there trained at Kinshasa’s Académie des Beaux-Arts, its most prestigious art school, and now work with collectives in Europe.

Calling out mobile phone waste: Nada Tshibwabwa / Image: Colin Delfosse

Artist Nada Tshibwabwa poses in a costume made from discarded mobile phones in Matongé. While 60% of the reserves of coltan, used in smartphones, is in the DRC, Congolese people get hand-me-downs from the West.

Junior Lohaka Tshonga / Image: Colin Delfosse

Junior Lohaka Tshonga in a ‘scuba suit’.

Vehicle for change: Kilomboshi Lukumbi Hénock / Image: Colin Delfosse

Artist Kilomboshi Lukumbi Hénock – known as Pape Noir, or ‘Black Pope’ – defiantly wears discarded plastic car parts and exhaust pipes from his home district of Limete Industriel – a commune that experiences pollution from factories and vehicles.

Driving home the message: Jean Precy Numbi Samba / Image: Colin Delfosse

Jean Precy Numbi Samba (AKA Robot Kimbalambala) in a suit made from old car parts.

Junior Lohaka Tshonga / Image: Colin Delfosse

Congolese painter and performer Junior Lohaka Tshonga wears his Bolole Nkemi (meaning “I’m the idiot”) costume. The artist trained at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Kinshasa and specialises in working with recycled plastic bottles taken from the city’s rivers.

It’s the tangled-cable-nightmare we all dread, brought to life / Image: Colin Delfosse

Fancy discovering Kinshasa’s street performance scene? Join a DRC urban culture trip in August, 2024, with our tour operator Kumakonda.

Upcycling fashion gurus across the Ethiopian Airlines network

In Nigeria: NKWO
First launched in the UK, this sustainable brand from Nkwo Onwuka weaves traditional fabrics with discarded denim.

In Uganda: Buzigahill
Kampala designer Bobby Kolade repurposes second-hand clothes and sells them back to the global North as high fashion.

In South Africa: Amble
Amber Barker employs local cobblers and artisans to create made-to-order, low-footprint shoes that use upcycled leather.

Keep the creativity flowing with a guide to Kinshasa’s most incredible art.