Manatho Shumba Masani, 50, is a sculptor and seller of “canimals,” animals made from aluminum cans. He lives in Washington.
How long have you been selling the canimals in Eastern Market?
About 12 years.
Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?
An artist. One of the things that inspires me is color. That’s one of the hallmarks of being an artist, being inspired by something you can’t touch.
Who drinks all the soda and beer?
People bring me cans. By the bag.
What’s your favorite can?
Arizona Green Tea. For the colors, but also the texture. It’s a nice thickness. They’ve got the right size: 24-ounce cans. You get more mileage out of them.
Do you remember your first giraffe [canimal]?
I still have it. The stomach was way too big. It was bothering me. Like, why is the stomach so off? So I took that as being symbolic of more to come. I saw the beauty in it. Okay, she’s pregnant.
You are an artist! Is it your livelihood?
Yeah, it’s a full-time gig. During the week, it’s all I’m doing.
Have you ever had a moment with a giraffe?
I went on safari in Zimbabwe. Seeing a giraffe in real life, I can’t even put it into words, the feeling you get from seeing something that tall, that huge, that peaceful. The word for giraffe in Shona is “twiza.” Translates into He Who Grazes From the Heavens. Ain’t that nice?
I want to graze from the heavens.
Exactly. That symbolizes being your higher self. They have the biggest heart of any animal on land.
Your material is everywhere.
One day this guy came to my stand. He was like CEO of a bottling company. [He said] Arizona Green Tea, which is my best seller, spent over a million dollars just on research of that color. They were going for a color that evoked tranquility and peace. I’m benefitting from their million-dollar research. People gravitate to it.
What doesn’t sell?
The silver ones. Like the Diet Coke. The ones I like making the least is Coca-Cola, the red and white. Their cans are like paper thin. The cheesiest can.
What’s your relationship with aluminum?
See this scar? My first summer job was given to me by Mayor Marion Barry. I was 15. My job was to cut grass. First day on the job, they were telling us: Cut these tree boxes. But you have to sweep them out; the tree boxes have glass and stuff. This one guy wasn’t listening, and he cuts a can and the can shoots out from underneath the lawn mower and it cuts my finger here and here. It cut the tendon. My finger’s dangling, blood is squirting out. I almost lost this finger. Due to a can! They had to operate.
You’re getting revenge on the cans now?
You’re cutting me? I’m cutting you.
For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.
Follow the Magazine on Twitter.
Like us on Facebook.
Email us at email@example.com.