Argentine sculptor turns pandemic waste into art

Marcelo Toledo usually creates sculptures and jewellery out of metal. Now the Argentine artist is working with a new material: waste masks and syringes from the COVID-19 pandemic to create an exhibition exploring the painful impact of the virus.

Toledo, who has made jewellery for the musical “Evita” on Broadway and unique pieces for Barack Obama and Madonna, was among the first in Argentina to contract COVID-19 a year ago, which left him hospitalized for eight days with pneumonia.

The experience left an imprint on his life and triggered a flurry of artworks, from a 14-meter mask with the Argentine flag that he placed on the iconic Obelisk in Buenos Aires to raise awareness about organ donation during the pandemic.

For his new exhibition, the “Museum of the After,” Toledo is collecting recycled coronavirus waste sent by hospitals, laboratories and random people. It includes old vaccines and medical parts, and newspaper clippings about the pandemic.

“I am excited to be able to transform pain into beauty and this exhibition is just that, capturing everything that is happening to us as a society,” Toledo, 45, told Reuters in his workshop in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires.

The artworks, which will go on show from September in a public space in downtown Buenos Aires, will all be made from “disposable materials or garbage that people send me,” many of them sealed inside vacuum-packed bags. “It is the first time that I do an exhibition in which I do not have to buy any of the elements,” he said. “It will all be enclosed or put in capsules because we should never forget this.

So the idea is that everything can be preserved over time. “In the exhibition there will be a real ship that symbolically crosses a “storm” and recycling islands to raise awareness about the importance of caring for the environment.

“The exhibition will tell the story of this ship that went sailing and was stranded after the storm, which is a great metaphor for what is happening to us. This pandemic, it’s a great global storm,” Toledo said.

As with the giant mask, which was replicated in countries such as the United States and Japan, the artist dreams of reproducing the new exhibition in other cities around the world.“The idea of this ‘Museum of the After’ is, on one hand, to look for elements from all over the world, and also to be able to replicate it in other places and even get a physical museum to leave the work for posterity,” he said.