WOPL art display highlights the beauty of recycling

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Public Library is kicking off 2020 with a monthlong exhibit of art made entirely of recycled materials. It’s part of Arshad Aziz’s Threaded Planet, a business where he makes clothes out of repurposed materials. An opening reception will be held Sunday, Jan. 19, at 1 p.m. at the library, but the work is already hanging.

“We’re throwing stuff in landfills,” Aziz said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Jan. 3. “If we keep throwing everything in the landfills, there will be no space left. I collected things from my street and made it into art.”

A self-proclaimed “accidental artist,” Aziz was a financial analyst in Manhattan for more than 20 years until he was laid off a few years ago. He decided that, instead of finding another finance job, he would give making art a shot. Everything he makes, from clothes to wall art, is created with leftover paint, repurposed fabric and wood from other projects.

“I collected the wooden frames from the street,” Aziz said. “I collected cans from when people painted in their houses. Maybe for the whole collection I spent $5 or $10.”

Aziz wasn’t a professional artist until recently, but he has been around art his whole life. He watched his mother do the same thing while he was growing up in Pakistan.

“She was reusing everything and repurposing everything to save money,” Aziz said. “She would make things, like my father and sister’s clothes. She was creating her own makeup. She didn’t have a lot of money to spend, but she was a stylish lady. That was the environment I grew up in.”

Motivated by the excessive waste he sees on a daily basis, Aziz made the art on display at the library out of reupholstered chairs, leftover paint, canvas taken from other work, and old clothes. Aziz said seeing art made out of what most people see as trash can teach them something.

“That’s the lifestyle we enjoy, but we won’t leave it for our children and grandchildren,” he said. “We can still enjoy our life by buying less. I want to educate adults and children, anyone who wants to learn.”

Natural elements like shells, grass and leaves are incorporated into Aziz’s show at the library, which is his second in town. Threaded Planet work was previously displayed at the West Orange Arts Center. The environment — in the form of water lilies, foliage, animals and landscapes — is incorporated into the design of his pieces as well. Though he is creating art, Aziz also sees it as a public service.

“I would love to have some kind of school where I can show them how to recycle and make things,” he said. “People can learn how to sell their clothes and their items.”

Aziz’s work is especially prescient now, as the planet is in the middle of a climate crisis. Aziz is aware of the difference than can be made if more people follow his example and reuse more instead of dragging their belongings to the curb to be collected on garbage day.

Aziz’s exhibit will be at the library through January. More of his work can be found at www.threadedplanet.com.

“I’m just doing this to spread awareness,” Aziz said. “A lot of people are more talented than I am, but I grew up doing this. I want them to see that this is so easy and then say, ‘I can do that.’ This is what we need right now. It’s more urgent than anything else.”

Photos of Arshad Aziz’s Artwork by Amanda Valentovic