Go green: Garbage to gold

Published August 23, 2015
Bamboo sticks sphere creates a dramatic burst; mirror adds to the effect
Bamboo sticks sphere creates a dramatic burst; mirror adds to the effect

Bilquis Tabani collects rubbish and turns it into gold. Mixing talent and imagination, she creates floral and dry designs from the garden litter collected from homes and streets; and presents it in exhibitions, both in Pakistan and abroad.

“There are many styles adopted by floral designers and one style which is very popular is called ‘street treasure’, which we collect from streets and gardens and then make dry arrangements from it. The Floral Art Society Pakistan (FASP) holds exhibitions regularly and every year under the umbrella of Horticultural Society of Pakistan, we have a main exhibition along with other floral societies. This year our theme was Khazeena-i-Rah (street treasures). All the rubbish including spathes of coconuts, coconut barks, seed pods and roots and other garden waste that we collected was incorporated in designs with fresh flowers.”

The exhibition was a big success as people found the concept very interesting and the presentations which included screens, lighting and unusual designs created a beautiful look. The style is more popular here as compared to other countries because imported flowers are very expensive and not available all the time, whereas street rubbish is, so making good designs becomes essential for the participants. The members used vines, roots, dry gourd, palm leaves and seeds, bamboos and wood, apart from flowers and leaves in their designs and received first prize in the show. The screens on which they were made were also bought by the visitors along with the dry arrangements, and the money collected was given to charity. “We donate the money generated from our own annual show to SIUT or other deserving organisations,” Bilquis explained.


Upcycled, recycled and repurposed waste can assume incredible forms with just a little imagination and aesthetic sense


She emphasised that one has to be on the lookout constantly for things lying on the street that the gardeners usually throw out or the sticks and branches that fall from garden walls.

A play of contrast in textures — roughness of sawdust against the gentleness of sehrabel
A play of contrast in textures — roughness of sawdust against the gentleness of sehrabel

“My husband and I went for dinner to a friend’s house. As we were leaving I thought I saw a woodrose, which is a very rare flower, among the twigs lying outside the wall of the house. As I moved the twigs with a stick in the dark my husband switched his car light on for me to see a little better. The housemaid watching at the gate ran inside screaming that the guests were performing jadoo with a stick. It became a joke and did the rounds for months.” Supportive husbands are a big help when pursuing a hobby like this, says Bilquis. Her husband would collect twigs and leaves for her when their children were small so she could focus on the domestic front.

Bilquis Tabani who also makes beautiful artificial flowers has been associated with the FASP for 30 years, and proudly says the force behind the society is Shahimah Sayyed who has been awarded the title of the 10th best floral designer in the world. “We have extensive classes and take our work seriously, doing research and demonstrations regularly. You have to make this hobby cost effective by getting things that are not pricy.” Fully engrosssd in her work, Bilquis says it brings her peace and tranquility, makes one a positive thinker and productive, as one learns to adore nature and its beauty.

A conical design made from palm shaves; flowers and vines are added to create visual effect
A conical design made from palm shaves; flowers and vines are added to create visual effect

As the street treasure style is inexpensive, anyone can adopt it. “I gave classes to Behbud girls who collected the garbage and made beautiful designs from it, with a little help from me which included glue and wire that I had brought along. All that is needed is imagination, talent and guidance. If such exhibitions are presented regularly there will be an awareness created among people and TV channels can also promote it, our youth will also have something constructive to do instead of wasting time. They have talent but need guidance and to be shown how to do things. When schools invite me or my group, we teach them how to make things out of the street-rubbish and the response is very good, especially in charity schools. Through the barks, leaves and pods, so many things can be made and enterprising people sell them in shops, so this is also a means of earning money. But one has to have an eye for collecting the right things.”

Bilquis, along with a few members of her group went to Kaghan recently for a four-day workshop and seminar, and were floored by the natural beauty there. “We made designs on the spot from things picked from the ground such as wood, pine cones, ferns and stones, which is known as ‘land art’, which is also a category or theme of the different floral designs we make. The locals, mostly children, took a lot of interest and made designs with us learning very quickly. The kids were school-going and well behaved and surprisingly spoke very good Urdu, so there was no communication gap.” The programme was a learning experience for them about the plants and different species available there. It was art at its best, with beautiful colour combinations and things found in the surroundings, all for free!

A stunning design created by assembling together palm leaves and spaths
A stunning design created by assembling together palm leaves and spaths

When Bilquis Tabani’s group participates in international exhibitions abroad, they wear their national dress, shalwar kameez, use their own material taken from here, and are on their best behaviour as Bilquis proudly states, ‘we are representing our country’.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 23rd, 2015

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