Near the banks of Lake Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, artist Patrick Cikuru Cirimwami wades knee-deep through a mountain of plastic bottles, scooping as many as he can carry into a large sack.
There is no public waste collection in the area, and the trash that ends up in Lake Kivu often causes breakdowns in the hydroelectric plant, leading to power cuts.
But Cikuru Cirimwami’s goal is bigger than helping clean up. Later he will melt down the plastic to make a thick liquid which he uses to paint portraits of politicians – intended to be a condemnation of what he says is their inaction in protecting the environment.
“There have been many conferences in DR Congo, many meetings … but we have not taken measures to protect nature. As a Congolese artist, I can send a message,” said the 26-year-old.
Last month, the artist’s portraits of political figures, from independence leader Patrice Lumumba to current president Felix Tshisekedi, were displayed at a cultural centre in his hometown, Bukavu.
Congo, like other African nations, has insisted on its right to develop its economy by exploiting its vast natural resources. It has come under criticism for putting oil blocks up for auction in the world’s second-biggest rainforest.
It has pledged to minimise the potentially devastating impact by using modern drilling methods and tight regulation. It also hosted talks before November’s COP 27 climate summit to call on rich nations to honour a pledge to developing nations to ensure fair finance to fight climate change.