Many a tourist leaves South African shores with a wire creation in their luggage, and the image of children racing through dusty streets with their self-made wire cars has become characteristic of our country.

One South African project is taking this symbol of South African creativity and combining it with tech in an innovative and artistic way – and empowering informal-sector artists while their at it.

African Robots was founded by Ralph Borland in Cape Town in 2013, and was born from combining networks for informal street artists and informal cellphone repairs by using phone parts. This amalgamation has led to the creation of beautiful sculptures with kinetic functionalities that have been exhibited as far afield as the Vitra Design Museum in Germany in 2015 and the AKAA Convention in Paris.

After graduating from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Borland found inspiration in the wire cars of his childhood in Zimbabwe. He decided to combine wire art with cheap electronics found in car phone chargers and electronic toys that informal street sellers peddle. The result is beautiful wire sculptures of birds and other insects that are powered by small electronic circuit boards. The driving force behind the project is to transform the concept of wirework from one of craft to one of art.

African Robots have already started discussions with a South African educational technology firm to develop a kit for teaching electronics in school, in so doing enabling the project to take its educational and training leg to a larger audience.

These little pieces of art are changing the face of traditional crafts in South Africa, and taking it into the world of robotics. As technology becomes an ever-present part of our lives, it is no surprise that art is starting to incorporate it as well.

An example of a starling made by African Robots.

Start typing and press Enter to search