Artist Beverly Barkat Reimagines the Earth’s Trash as a Glittering Globe

The artist's new installation looks like stained glass, but move closer and you'll see plastic wrappers, familiar logos and fishing nets.

In the window-walled lobby of New York’s 3 World Trade Center, Beverly Barkat’s blonde hair swung into her face as she leaned down to surreptitiously pick up a receipt lying on the floor, likely dropped by one of the many tourists, businesspeople or city dwellers streaming through the building. This has become second nature for the Israeli artist, who for three years collected scraps of public waste for her latest large-scale installation.

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Woman walks into large sculptural globe filled with crossing metal wires
Earth Poetica was shown at an aquarium in Jerusalem before coming to New York City. Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Looming behind Barkat is the project: a 13-foot sphere of the globe glistening with 180 panels of what appears to be stained glass. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the sculpture’s main medium isn’t colorful glass at all, but a coating of epoxy resin gluing together waste plastic and fishing nets. Peering inside one of the sphere’s two empty window panels to look at its textured interior reveals the ugly truth. The earth’s colorful land masses, scatterings of islands and vast blue oceans are all made up of trash.

“What we’re doing is covering ourselves in plastic waste,” Barkat told Observer. “It needs to feel suffocating.” The artist, who was commissioned to create a site-specific installation for the World Trade Center building in 2017, first came up with the idea for Earth Poetica while traveling between New York City, her home of Jerusalem, and Venice, where she was working on another exhibition at the time. On one of the many flights, she caught a documentary about the earth’s plastic waste problem. Its depiction of young children scavenging beaches for plastic to sell “was shocking” to Barkat, bringing back memories of her childhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she grew up collecting shells by the ocean before moving to Israel at age 10. “Wait a second, is this what we are giving to our children?” thought Barkat. “Is that what we’re leaving to the next generation?”

Large sculpture of the globe sits in building lobby
The work was installed at 3 World Trade Center in June. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

An accumulation of waste sent in from around the world

Armed with endless maps—including a flipped one, as Barkat worked on Earth Poetica from the inside out—she began the process of researching and creating the installation. The artist and her three daughters had been collecting plastic waste for the project while traveling until Covid hampered their efforts. But when word got out about Barkat’s work, strangers across the U.S., U.K., South Africa, Taiwan, Japan and Australia started mailing her materials. “Some people cleaned it before they sent it. Some of them didn’t,” noted Barkat with a laugh.

Figuring out the proper resin to use was a trial and error process. The artist “tried all the resins in Israel” before moving on to North America, where she found a soy-based resin to cast the earth’s panels of waste. Holding up the sphere is a steel structure, complete with cables crisscrossing Earth Poetica’s hollow insidealongside bamboo scaffolding to bring in an element of nature. “Each step was like a wrestling match,” said Barkat.

Stained-glass-looking panels which are actually covered in plastic
A look inside the sculpture reveals plastic, wrappers and fishing nets. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Wrappers for San Benedetto water bottles and empty frozen green pea bags dot Earth Poetica’s smooth surface. But the mass of plastic waste isn’t dispersed according to its geographic origins. Pollution isn’t restricted by borders, according to Barkat. “You can find plastic waste in the ocean from all the different countries.”

The oceans are a sea of crumpled blue plastic, with tiny pieces of waste scattered throughout, representing “plastic breaking up into these nano pieces that go into our food because fish are eating them,” said Barkat. She noted that five areas in the installation’s oceans contain pieces of fishing nets, where currents in real life gather particularly large collections of waste—60 percent of which are made up of nets.

Woman in jumpsuit working in art studio, desk filled with metal trapezoids
Beverly Barkat used a soy-based resin to create the work’s glass-like effect. Michael Amar

Trash posing as treasure

Despite its heavy subject matter, the resin and trash of Earth Poetica create a beautiful, colorful stained glass effect, especially when light streams in through the windows of the building. This was purposeful, according to Barkat, who wanted to pull in passersby walking through the building. “It’s New York. Fashion, beauty, jewelry. It needed to be something like a jewel, a huge jewel.” The installation fittingly opened at the building on United Nations World Environment Day on June 5, after it was shown at the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem for nearly a year.

Barkat, who runs a studio in Jerusalem, was born to two ceramicists. Despite protesting that she would never be an artist herself, she went on to study at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and later worked on architectural interior projects. After raising her children, Barkat decided to embark on three years of study under renowned painter Israel Hirschberg.

“At a certain time, I felt, okay, I really need to invest in my art,” she said. Married to Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem and Israel’s current minister of economy and industry, she began working abroad when her husband entered politics to help separate the couple’s careers. “That’s why I went to London and Japan and Venice and Rome and America; I did something here,” she said.

Studio filled with colorful trash contains half-finished globe sculpture
Three years of research went into Earth Poetica. Oren Ben Hakoon.

Barkat just returned from a trip to Wyoming’s Pryor Mountains to study wild horses for her next project, which will explore freedom and movement through oil paintings. Like Earth Poetica, the works will be on a large scale, which she favors because she finds the act of creating bigger pieces triggers a more unique artistic process. “The large works are more evolved than what my brain knows. if my own brain knows it, someone else has done it before.”

And what of Earth Poetica? The installation will be on display at 3 World Trade Center until the fall. It may travel to Nairobi next, where the United Nations is hosting a summit on plastic waste, according to Barkat, who hopes the installation will eventually find a permanent home. “It came from waste. I don’t want it to go back to waste.”

Artist Beverly Barkat Reimagines the Earth’s Trash as a Glittering Globe