(Image by ngbiblog)Recycling is a potent concept. Many regard it as simply the repurposing of objects in order to prevent waste, but in the right hands, it can be a process that charts all sorts of powerful aesthetic and cultural shifts. The "Throne of Weapons" and "Tree of Life" are two pieces of "recycling" that do just this. Made from decommissioned AK47s and other instruments of death from the Mozambique civil war, they take the physical remains of war and transform them into the collective hopes of a nation traumatized by violence and cruelty.
(Image via wikimedia, by drow male)Both objects are the product of the imaginatively entitled "Transforming Arms into Tools" project. But despite its rather functional name, the scheme, set up in 1995 by the Christian Council of Mozambique, is consistently creating some of the most the most poignant "recycled" art in recent memory. These guns began life in the poisonous smelting factories of Russia, Eastern Europe, Korea or Portugal, before being put to bloody use in the dense jungles of Mozambique's coastal lowlands. Now, under the initiative of Bishop Dinis Sengulane, they are crafted into icons that carry a nation's hopes for peace.
(Image by hjallig)Under the guidance of the Christian Council, teams from the project (known as Transformação de Armas em Enxadas, or TAE) cut up the guns and re-mould them into sculptures: an elaborate, if disturbing chair, and a tree dedicated to 'life'. The chair alone is composed of guns that originated in seven different countries, pointing up the resolutely unresolved issue of international arms trade. The resulting artworks are not only hauntingly beautiful for the casual observer, but also draw together many intersecting currents for the people of Mozambique.
(Image by James M Thorne)In one sense, we might think of them as cathartic: they perform a cleansing or purging movement, ridding us of painful emotional excess, not unlike the original intentions of Greek Tragedy. They give outer form to Mozambique' s collective surplus of sorrow, left to stew long after the firing stopped, a form of relief that prevents such pain from eating its people up, or worse still, erupting into further violence. Conversely, they also enable us as viewers to experience their pain in a controlled form, fostering a sense of profound empathy for the victims of such a tragic conflict, perhaps an implicit form of advice that we should never let this happen again.
(Image by hdptcar)At another level, they are also signs of peace that point the way to happier times. Just as these sculptures recycle guns that brought misery into art that brings pleasure, so they recycle the memories of those who perished, into a new feeling of humanity, brotherhood and charity. They serve as reminders of what came to pass, and of why we should strive to avoid human conflict in the future. In this sense they embody a change, and one for the good, that we hope is sweeping through the villages of Mozambique and other war-torn countries the world over.
(Image by rvacpinta)The pieces were acquired by the British Museum in 2005 and spent the next few years touring the major cities of Britain, garnering huge applause. Now on display in the museum, they are definitely worth a trip to London we think; these moving sculptures may be recycled monuments to death, but crucially, also to life and a peaceful future.
Thanks to author Chris Ingham Brooke of Environmental Graffiti.