Dirty Pretty Things

Leana Schoeman, Sunday Times Lifestyle, May 26, 2019


Leana Schoeman catches up with Thirza Schaap who fights plastic pollution in our oceans by raising awareness through her photographs.

Where did it all start?
As a child, I would walk over beaches and through fields and forests to collectbeautiful shells, shimmering stones, feathers and funny shaped branches. Much later, after I had moved from Holland to South Africa, I found myself doing the same thing. Only to discover that I started filling my pockets with trash instead of treasure. Plastic from the ocean. Colourful and beautiful in its own tragic way. In makingartistic sculptures out of the objects I find, I try to evoke an emotional response from my audience by creating a contradiction. A clash between initial aesthetic attraction and, after a second look, repulsion and the realisation of the tragedy trash causes.

Why use plastic for your still lifes?
Plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950. We have 9.2 billions tons of the stuff to deal with and more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. Of that waste, 6.3 billion tons never make it to the recycle bin and is somewhere in our environment. It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to biodegrade. So it’s clear that we need to avoid using plastic as much as possible — bring your own bags when doing grocery shopping; shop at markets where not everything is wrapped in plastic; repair what you can; buy sustainable clothes and goods, and refuse single-use plastic like straws, coffee cups and water bottles.

When do you feel most creative?
I get this feeling that inside I am stirring; something is brewing like a secret. Then I need to create. It’s a meditative process.

Who or what inspires you?
Art and nature in all its ways, random Instagram photographs, real life. What I see on the street.

Other talents you’d like to have?
I started making temporary compositions and photographing them. I found out I love building sculptures. I want to build a giant sculpture on the beach out of the trash of Trash Island on the Maldives and photograph it.

Music you listen to while working?
I listen to the silence.

Best advice you’ve received?
Buy what you need and love what you have.

Best book you’ve read?
All Haruki Murakami’s works. Where is the most amazing space or place you’ve been to, and why?
When I lived in The Netherlands I longed for something else, and that became South Africa. Cape Town is a city close to nature. Now I can imagine living in a part of the world where I can have my little boat and collect plastic with a net right from the ocean. And make my works.

What’s on your coffee table?
On all our tables, cabinets and spaces on the floor, there are my sculptures.

What do you get up to on a Sunday afternoon?
I have no idea of time or days. Sunday can be Monday; I go with the flow. Where would you most like to live?
At the moment here in beautiful Cape Town. But I dream of a place I haven’t been to; that I don’t know yet.

Who or what could you not live without?
My husband, son and dog.

What is the last thing you bought?
Food from the local farmers’ market.

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