The Zimbabwe artist protests against the colonial education system with his solo show, Say Hello To English

Some say that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and this is perhaps never more evident than in the work of the Zimbabwean artist Moffat Takadiwa. The self-crowned “spiritual garbage man” - whose earthly home finds him based in Harare - is known for his striking wall sculptures and installations painstakingly created from things he finds lying around, including spray-can canisters, perfume bottles, dishwasher tops and toothpaste tubes.

Visiting his new exhibition at Tyburn Gallery, provocatively titled Say Hello To English, you are confronted with sprawling sculptures, dripping down the gallery’s walls. Speaking with Takadiwa, he explains that the works are created from thousands of destroyed computer keyboards – dismantled by him and a team of keen assistants – as a rally against the prominence of the English language in Zimbabwe. Takadiwa saw this process, which was perhaps as pleasurable as it was destructive, as an important reference to students he had seen tearing down statues and libraries in South Africa, part of protests against the colonisation of academia throughout the continent. “In Zimbabwe, many of our policies have been inherited from the days of Rhodes and the Rhodesian era. In reusing these keyboards I am starting to construct my own language,” Takadiwa says. “This is the most important part of the works on show here, the fact that they challenge perpetuated colonial structures, especially cultural legacies.”

Born in 1983 in Karoi, Takadiwa graduated with a BA Honors from Harare Polytechnic College in 2008 and started working with found materials due to the lack of available “conventional art materials” during difficult times in the city. His success in this medium as a vehicle for addressing material culture, spirituality and the environment has seen him become a leading figure within the post-independence generation of artists in Zimbabwe. He has exhibiting extensively across major institutions in his country as well as internationally, this being is second solo show in London.

As you enter Tyburn’s space, one work, entitled The Falling of Rhodes(ia), looms out at you like a mythical creature. Takadiwa explains that to him the work is “consumptive; the voids within it suggest that it is being swallowed, or it is self-consuming the sum of its parts”. Riffing off the statue of the imperialist Cecil John Rhodes, recently removed from Cape Town University following protests, Takadiwa’s piece, and the exhibition more widely, becomes the artist’s own playful addition to the dynamic #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movement, deliberately questioning the validity of Western oriented education in Africa. He points towards the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o as a strong influence on the works, in particular Thiong’o’s book Decolonising The Mind, which for him highlights the “inseparable connection between language and cultural dominance”.

Say Hello To English by Moffat Takadiwa is on view at Tyburn Gallery, London until 6 May 2017