Francois Knoetze's mythical trash creatures reveal our terrible treatment of waste

The five mythical Cape Mongo characters are each made of discarded waste from the city of Cape Town.

Cape Mongo, created by Cape Town-based performance artist and filmmaker Francois Knoetze, follows the stories of five characters as they journey through the city of Cape Town. Each Mongo character is made from the city’s discarded waste – mythical “trash creatures” that have emerged from the growing dumps of consumer culture. 

The five Cape Mongo monsters are Paper, Glass, Plastic, Metal and VHS. They are creatures that are often thought of as being dangerous or dirty, but instead they offer us valuable clues as to who we are and where we came from.

Paper, whose genetic roots are linked to trees, is a migratory creature – whose soft cardboard skin can be used for shelter. Glass emerged from sand and will eventually return to it. The traces of labels are visible on Glass’s skin. Visually, Plastic is a treasure; made from the rainbow-like scraps of modern life. Metal is a spectacular creature – like the Tin man of Oz, with an impressive armour and physical strength. VHS is made from the ribbons of old tape cassettes and videos.

In five short films, the creatures revisit the spaces of their imagined pasts – the locations associated with their material existence and the constitution of their social relations – as if walking against the consumer-driven currents of city.

From postmodern shopping malls to the bustling streets of the Bo Kaap to leafy suburbia and desolate shipping-container yards, these characters’ journeys touch on some of the historical trajectories that have lead to the endemic inequality and social alienation that characterises present day Cape Town. 

Artist Francois Knoetze has constructed five wearable sculptures entirely out of waste. Cape Mongo imagines trash objects – specifically, the packaging of domestic consumables and the electronic devices used to record every-day life – as remnants of the activities that shaped them. Performing all over the city of Cape Town, the Cape Mongo films document the journeys of these suits and also feature found footage relating to various issues around housing, food security, inequality and racial segregation.

*Mongo n. slang. object thrown away and then recovered