Picture interactive electronic street art in the form of small robots. That’s the focus of the African Robots project heralded by Ralph Borland, a South African artist and post-doctoral researcher. Borland’s vision is to create interactive electronic street art — meaning, it is sold by people on the street — a common scene across Africa. Art sold by road side sellers are usually items crafted from electrical wire, beads, plastic. and metal. African Robots brings a new spin to this form of livelihood in South Africa and Zimbabwe.


Street wire art is an often overlooked art form in South Africa where, most of the artists that create the forms are from neighbouring Zimbabwe. The street art created by African Robots, like that made by the roadside dealers, employs tools such as wire and metal but adds a twist with basic electronics resulting in three-dimensional creations. Not only an art project, African Robots are also dipped in social development through sharing skills with street artists.



The project also functions as a study into alternative futures and an innovative skill-sharing avenue. Artists and researchers create complex robots using cheap materials as well as recycled cell phones and toys. The results of the African Robots project are an interesting take on Afrofuturism; its first prototype is the Starling 1.0. Modeled after a common urban bird found in Cape Town, the mechanical starling runs on a Nokia phone battery, has glowing eyes, and has a head and wings that can move. A second version Starling 1.1 that features sound has been crafted and exhibited, and much later the Starling 1.2, pictured above was unveiled in January 2016 in Cape Town.


The street art made by African Robots has been exhibited in South Africa and the United Kingdom. African Robots has also run a workshop in Zimbabwe in 2015 where wire artists were trained.


Would you buy an African robot sold as street art? What are your opinions on this project? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below or tweeting at me @rafeeeeta