Making Something from Nothing: An Interview with Barbara Mintz

“I am Barbara Mintz, some people call me B. Laughing Water which is a name I found for myself, I am a dancer, creator, and my Indian name is Bhava, which means feeling so it’s all about feeling and creating and that’s who I am.”

Before conducting this interview, I’d seen Barbara Mintz vending wears at Eve Encinitas’ Mindful Market every Tuesday.  Barbara’s art work was as colorful and individual as her way of dress. On our interview day, she wore a large black and red floral poncho that was perfectly matched by bright, low-dangling, red Our Lady of Guadalupe earrings and a red fabric rose in a black sun hat.  If I could devise a single word for her aesthetic it would be: bold.

As time went on, and upon taking closer look at her art, I sensed that upcycling was no new concept and that she carried wisdom on the subject. After speaking with her, it became clear that her intention in upcycling found root decades ago as an educational and awareness movement in Bali.  This led me to wonder how much of an impact to our planet’s health can this art bring? Barbara was the perfect person to ask.

“Can you tell our audience a little bit about yourself?”

“Well… mostly I’m a dancer… But I’m a creator and my energy flows through whatever I do… here I have my recycled jewelry which is made from recycled inner tubes and crocheted plastic bags…”

“Why did you start doing recycled art?

“… I was living in Bali, which is an amazing place and a very organic place…The traditional way you were given take out or carrying food or other purchases was in banana leaves…the life was all natural and organic … but then slowly westerners came in with their plastic bags and their shampoo bottles… and their tin cans… the old way of getting rid of trash in Bali was to burn it…” but for the new trash this was not a good solution.

Trash burning in Bali has been an issue for decades.  Unlike trash incineration, barrel and open air burning releases tons of toxins into the atmosphere and damages air conditions causing physical health problems to many people living in the area.

“… I would talk to the ladies, the grandmas would say in Indonesian ‘Jangan membakar plastik!’, Don’t burn the plastic! But they kept doing it because they’re traditional people, they do things the way they’ve always been done.  So we started an organization called, “Bumi Sehat”, it means Healthy Earth.. we were educating and planting trees and talking about recycling and that’s when I started recycling. Way back when…”

Way back when, meant around 1985 when Barbara began living in Bali.

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“In those days you could see that the Balinese were living in the now, with no thought of the future. Their whole culture, their language, everything is in the now, they have no tenses... so they don’t realize that in the future it will affect things if they are burning… they’d just put  tiles from building sites out and other things on the ground thinking not considering what would become of them.…”

“When they do cremations in Bali, they make a big processions and they carry the bull which contains objects and maybe the bones of the person… and they go through the streets and they hold it up on this big bamboo frame and everyone is wearing like flip flops and it’s chaotic and they have to turn to confuse the spirits so the ones don’t follow them… it’s a very mystical culture.  So at the end of the cremation procession, there were all the flip flops on the road and so I collected ‘em and I made beads out of them - rubber beads”

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So why adornments?

“... to me it was creating beauty out of something that was trash, that was being discarded, but it’s not worth nothing, it’s something, it’s beauty, it’s creativity.  Creativity can make something new… All of art is really vibration… and if we put our positive vibrations into something… then that affects the people… That’s I think the role of art forever.  Making people feel something and bringing some kind of deeper or higher or some kind of expanded experience…”

What I find amazing is that not only is Barbara engaging in a practice that’s nourishing artistically, but also in one that’s far more sustainable for our environment than traditional jewelry making.  Upcycling, according to Tree Peace’s article, “... results in the reduction of raw material consumption. Consequently, energy, air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions…” The term, though, was not officially coined until 2002, but in the late 80’s, the practice was already taking shape for Barbara.

Given its roots in the past, how much of a driving force for change does upcycling have moving into the future?

“It’s going, it’s really going.  A friend of mine had on a pair of exercise pants…  that were beautiful with lotuses and an elephant and everything.  They were made out of plastic! But they felt like normal stretchy pants.  So people who have technology of some kind… those people can take it really far.  And there was somebody in Bali who was making or they may be still are making roads and bricks and things from recycled materials…”

Do you think a pair of earrings can potentially lead someone into the world of upcycling?

“People come up to the table and see something and I say oh this is something made out of recycled inner tube and this woman said, “Get out of town!”  They can’t believe it! And I say, “This is plastic bags” and they say “No! How creative! What?” Ya know, and so there they go… something new happens.  So that’s part of the reason I do it too. Here’s something beautiful but it’s useful for the planet. That’s fantastic.”

For people my age coming into the world and becoming stewards of the planet, we feel that we are the inheritors of the earth at this time, what is it that we need to focus on as a generation that would benefit the planet?

“Finding a pace for yourself that is your very own heartbeat, your own rhythm and be dedicated…  find your path. Be true to yourself and respectful… be peaceful and loving and spread that because it’s all we have.”

I commissioned her to craft a reusable shopping bag and the result was absolutely gorgeous!  It is clear that Barbara creates each piece with a amount of love.

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I’m so deeply grateful for Barbara’s work and openness to share even a small part of her story with me. For more information, Barbara hosts much of her story and her art on her website  & Etsy. 

By: Mikaela Valentino

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