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Turning guns into art

September 21st marks the United Nations International Day of Peace. This year’s theme, ‘Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All’ celebrates global unity, support and tolerance. Each year, this day offers an opportunity for us to reflect on and embrace our common humanity.

The continuing mobilisation for “peace, both within and among all nations and peoples” is an aspiration reflected in our  ‘Farewell to Arms?’ exhibition, which explores the positive changes that have been – and are still being – made by individuals, groups and whole nations that choose to replace conflict with peace. Created in collaboration with Bradford’s Peace Museum, the exhibition explores the idea of conversion – from war to peace, from weapons and armour to useful tools or symbolic images- and offers an important alternative perspective on arms and armour. It features images, video, sculpture, documents and objects, including this “Chair“.

The chair, created by sculptor Kester (Christavao Estevao Canhavato), is formed entirely of dismantled Kalashnikov assault rifles.  This sculpture consists of: 2 1st pattern Russian AK-47’s, 4 2nd pattern Russian AK-47’s (with milled receiver), 3 Kalashnikov AKM’s of which: 1 East German MPiKM (back bracer) – right leg and 1 Chinese type 56/1 – left leg; 7 early pattern magazines and 7 late pattern magazines.

The weapons were handed in after the 1992 peace agreement at the end of the 16-year long Mozambique Civil War, dismantled and redistributed to artists. Surrendered guns were also exchanged for useful items like bicycles and sewing machines.

Similarly, this bird-like sculpture by Fiel Dos Santos, entitled ‘Bird that wants to Survive‘ is also made of weapons which were handed in at the end of the Mozambique Civil War. A scheme run by the Christian Council of Mozambique swapped guns for tools such as sewing machines and ploughs, and since its inception, it has amassed and decommissioned in excess of 200,000 weapons.

The symbolism of these items and their final form as art is poignant. Together, they archive a history of peace, challenge our associations with weaponry, question the direction of arms in the future and bolster the vision that ‘they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war‘.

For more information, visit the ‘Farewell to Arms?’ exhibition, which can be found in the War Gallery at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. To find out more about International Day of Peace, visit the United Nations website.

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