Left: “Plastic is Forever” by Barbara de Vries; right: “Portrait of Barbara de Vries”.

Dutch artist and designer Barbara de Vries experienced what she calls her personal transformation while walking on the beach of Eleuthera in the Bahamas about 15 years ago. She noticed bright flecks of color within the sand and initially thought they were beautiful until she realized that these colorful specks were plastic. “By the end of that first walk I had encountered everything that mankind had ever made in plastic. Crates, chairs, brushes, lids, containers, barrettes, flip flops and sneakers, and endless lengths of nylon rope. Even on this remote ‘pristine’ beach I realized that we live in a man-made world.”  

Plastic is Forever” by Barbara de Vries 

She examined the plastic closer and saw it had been weathered by sand and salt and bleached in the sun. As a designer drawn to color and texture, Barbara found herself picking up the plastic pieces, which looked like gemstones, to keep. She returned home to Miami and researched more about plastic, discovering how devastating disposable plastics are to the environment. This discovery motivated her to  put the plastic she had gathered to use within a design context. In collaboration with Barneys, she created a collection of 750 t-shirts that featured the pieces of plastics as a way to bring attention to the problem of disposable consumption. 

Barbara speaks about the concept of away – that when we toss something in the trash, in our minds, it just goes “away.” Her “Away is Here” project amplifies the reality that it doesn’t go away because, as she says: Away is here. Plastic is literally everywhere: captured in fragile ocean corals and in our bloodstreams. She says, “In the past I put my creative work out there, but not the thought behind it. I have always been more interested in the outcome rather than the explanation of the creative process and believe that authenticity resonates on its rightful frequency. But because my work now has an element of activism, I succumbed.” 

Plastic is Forever” by Barbara de Vries 

In 2012, Barbara began displaying art under the concept of Plastic is Forever at Miami Art Basel by creating a workspace from plastic bottles. It was a fusion of art and design made to educate the world about the immense problem of plastic pollution. She has brought her work around the world, exhibiting forms of Plastic is Forever in Miami (with an installation that showed daily deposits of plastic over the course of four months, on one 600-yard stretch of Miami Beach), across the United States, and in the UK. She returns to Eleuthera often and has held workshops with local children, helping them craft jewelry from plastics they collect. Barbara has been featured in a TEDx talk and in the movie One BeachHer initial inquisitive beach walk has now turned into part of her life’s work, as she continues to speak about and create work that reflects the fragility of Earth and our responsibility to be aware of the consequences of our consumption.  

View Barbara’s work here and here

Look for her upcoming book, Coming Home, this September with an introduction by another Alabama Chanin inspiration— Li Edelkoort.  

Images courtesy of Barbara de Vries


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  1. Vickie Taton

    Thank you for featuring Barbara De Vries and the creative ways she is introducing people to the persistence of plastics in our environment.