The 20th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP20) that took place in Lima, Peru in December 2014 was the appropriate background for Vickie Frémont, a Cameroonian/French artist and entrepreneur. She took advantage of the event to conduct a series of workshops called “Citizen Workshops” with participation of people from all ages.
Ms. Frémont’s workshops combine a hands-on approach for the transformation of rejects or trash into useful everyday objects. Included in her workshops –which take place in schools, community centers, universities and even in commercial malls- are lectures on the destructive effects that trash of every kind has on the environment and on climate change.
She conducted her workshops using recycled materials at The Fashion Institute of Technology, The Bank Street School for Children, The Henry Street Settlement in New York City, Community Works, and numerous museums, libraries and public and private schools. She particularly remembers the time during one of her workshops when an elderly lady came up to her and asked her, “So, Vickie, what are we going to do next week?”
Ms. Frémont was born in Cameroon but left that country at an early age. She lived in Morocco with her parents, and afterwards also in the Ivory Coast and in France. Ms. Frémont has a dual background –a Cameroonian mother and a French father- which she believes has considerably enriched her view of the world and allowed her to see the points of contact of different cultures.
She has been designing and creating objects from recycled materials since she was eight years old, without any formal education. When she was 12, she began making dolls for her little sister. That initial work developed later into a passion for creating new objects out of recycled materials.
She focuses on what she loves: creating jewelry, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, sculptures, and children’s toys and art objects out of different materials such as hangers, plastic baskets, paper, cardboard, old wood objects, and rope, in short, anything that can be re-used. When I asked her what was her guiding emotion she told me, “To keep a part of my childhood, and to center myself.”
Despite all her teaching activities she considers herself much more than a teacher. As she said, “Much more than a teacher, I think of myself as someone who opens doors –the doors that exist inside us that make possible to discover and develop our own creativity and to be able to have a better, richer communication with other people and other cultures.”
Her program of working and creating hand made objects has a set of goals which Ms. Frémont describes as: providing materials for practical work which will lead to awakening the students’ creativity, restoring their self-esteem, developing their capacity to transmit their experience and new knowledge to others and getting training for commercial and business activities. As part of this last activity participants are taught business techniques such as adequate packaging, sales techniques, and bookkeeping.
After working in different countries she settled in New York, where she was the manager in charge of purchases at the Museum of African Art and continued expanding her activities as a jewelry designer. That activity brought her great recognition and international brands bought her creations. Talking about this activity she said, “My jewelry speaks about beauty as a source of empowerment. Each of my pieces is unique, as each woman is also unique.”
Her Recycling Art Program teaches students how to create artistic objects from materials as diverse as stones, wooden sticks and scraps of fabric. She told me, “Creating something from ‘nothing’, art that some people would consider trash, is not only a worthwhile undertaking but one that brings personal pleasure and understanding.”
That program has so far been adapted to be carried out with primary school children, high school and college students, teachers, parents and seniors. For people working in stressful situations, it can provide them with entertainment and a way out of their routine work and a way to express their natural talents. As she says, “Beauty can be found everywhere. Transformation of objects is like a miracle, a re-creation. This activity helps people to restore their self-esteem and it opens a door into the unlimited world of creativity.”
At the heart of her work is a powerful, personal vision of Africa, a vital, energetic continent of hard working men and women, a continent of beautiful children and young men and women, a continent of humor and a continent of hope.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.