Thirza Schaap: The beauty and tragedy around plastic

by Elisa Routa


First, I want to attract people by the image. Then, on the second look, I want them to see the tragedy of what I photographed.


Cape Town-based artist Thirza Schaap picks up trash from the beach and creates contemporary visuals. Throughout soft pastel colors and harmonious shapes, she tends to create her own language to speak to the world and catch people’s attention. « I want to provoke a clash between the beauty at first sight and the repulsion, the disgust of the trash. » 


Born in the Netherlands, Thirza Schaap moved to South Africa with her family 4 years ago. « We were curious of what it would be to live under the sun in flip-flops. We used to live in Amsterdam and were supposed to stay only 6 months in Cape Town. But shortly, just after a month, my husband said something like ‘Okay, I don’t know what you gonna do but I’m gonna stay.’ So we stayed! » 


Her passion for the ocean started as a child, when she would walk over beaches and forests to collect shells and stones. « I think I’ve always liked to collect, I’ve always looked at the ground. But I’m also passionate at reusing products. We buy everything second hand, in order to avoid buying new stuff. Materialism became so normal that we want to use less. On birthday occasions, we get so many presents, when there’s a brand new TV, everybody has this new TV. So before buying something, we like to ask ourselves ‘Are we really needing it?’ » 



Based between the mountains and the ocean, Thirza’s family walks down the beach everyday. That’s where she first found some plastics. « When I’m on the beach, I sometimes feel sick because of what I see. There’re too many bottles, there's too many plastic, often reduced to confettis. But when I’m back in my garden, it’s all about love. I see the beauty in it, I don’t feel the hate or the repulsion anymore. When I wash the objects, I wash the hate away. »


Plastic plates, shoes, ropes, folks, nets, caps, tyres, jars… Thirza uses her garden to stock all her beach finds. « I used to call myself a beachcomber, but today, I’m more a treasure hunter, » she says. « I pick up trash and keep what I find beautiful, depending on the color or the size. I have a little storage in my garden where I keep some boxes of different sizes. I got tiny boxes, medium and large boxes. Wires, fishing nexts, straws, bottles, shoes… When I find something, I pick it up, keep it, come back home, wash it and dry it under the sun. Then, I sit down at my computer, answer emails, and I go back to the garden and start photographing. My garden is my studio. » 


Both colorful, beautiful, tragic and sad, Thirza creates artistic sculptures out of trash, using her creativity to raise awareness around plastic pollution. « First, I want to attract people by the image. Then, on the second look, I want them to see the tragedy of what I photographed. I call it my Plastic Ocean Awareness Project. I sell prints for a low price and send them all over the world.  I want to connect with people with the same passion. I use these images as a friendly daily reminder. I want them on everybody’s kitchen and  in everybody’s living room. So that when you look at the picture, you’ll think twice before buying that cucumber in a plastic. You’ll choose the one without the plastic, » she explains. « In the next 50 years, we’ll have to change our attitudes on how we use plastics. It’s the same thing as cigarettes. 50 years ago, everybody was smoking. Maybe in 20 years of time, people will be like ‘How could you accept the plastic bags?’  I believe everybody want to do something and act against plastic pollution. If we all stop buying plastic bags in shops, if we all bring our own bags when we go shopping, we’ll be part of the solution. » 

Empty Ring Salmon Forever young Protea Shattered


Discover Thirza Schaap's work and her Plastic Ocean Project.

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