When you walk along the Atlantic coast’s sandy white beaches in Cape Town, it’s easy to be distracted by the startling magnificence of the scenery. The ice blue waves crash down onto beaches and smash into black brown rocks. On sunny days men and women, young and old play in the sea while soaking up the warmth with the freezing cold sea lapping at their toes, and the mountain screening the background. But if you pay attention, you’ll notice something else. Something that has become the subject of Dutch artist Thirza Schaap’s project to raise awareness for ocean conservation. Her deceptively beautiful series ‘Plastic Ocean’ is created from the plastic debris she finds on her beach walks near her home in Cape Town. The still lifes she creates from the sun-bleached rubbish she finds are both “attractive and repulsive.”

Thirza remembers how as a child she walked along beaches collecting sea treasures – shells and pebbles – now she can’t ignore the worn-down scraps, tangles of unrecognizable fibre, straws, bottles. She also finds flip-flops, toothbrushes, picnic cutlery, and hair curlers. Instead of those childhood treasures, she now fills her pockets with trash. Her strangest find? She told ID magazine, is “the sheer amount of it… A lot of people photograph beach debris, but I wanted to find a way to draw attention to it. To find a more subtle way”.

She takes her finds home, washes and arranges them for photographs, which she calls her one-minute sculptures. Thirzia told Trend Tablet that in making artistic sculptures out of the objects she finds, “I try to evoke an emotional response  from my audience by creating a contradiction”. The power of Thirzia’s art is that she attracts the audience’s eye with her beautiful arrangement of pale, pastel-coloured plastic finds; then with more thought, the tragedy becomes clear.

Next time, you’re on that walk, look down at your feet. Give those finds a thought.

  • The exhibition, Plastic Ocean opens on 3 June at Christie’s Amsterdam. The Plastic Ocean publication. http://plastic-ocean.net