Art of war

Thousands of weapons in some of the world’s most conflict-scarred states are being hammered, filed and welded into symbols of hope. From Maputo to Mexico City, artists are transforming decommissioned arms into an arsenal of art to highlight the futility of war and promote psychological healing.

Non-Violence, or the Knotted Gun, by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, a gift from the Government of Luxembourg presented to the United Nations in 1988.
Non-Violence, or the Knotted Gun, by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. The bronze replica of a 45-calibre revolver, a gift from Luxembourg to the United Nations, was sculpted in memory of the Swedish artist’s longtime friend John Lennon. Though not created from recycled munitions, the sculpture has been cited as one of the inspirations behind the arms-to-art movement. Photograph: UN

Maputo-born artist Gonçalo Mabunda is best known for twisting AK-47s, rocket launchers and pistols into anthropomorphic forms
Sculptor Gonçalo Mabunda recycles weapons recovered from Mozambique’s 16-year civil war, which ended after a truce in 1992. The Maputo-born artist twists and melds AK-47s, rocket launchers and pistols into anthropomorphic forms. Photograph: Gonçalo Mabunda
Maputo-born artist Gonçalo Mabunda is best known for twisting AK-47s, rocket launchers and pistols into anthropomorphic forms
Mabunda, seen here at work, lost relatives in the Mozambique conflict. The sculptor says handling decommissioned arms can be an emotional experience – and transforming them into artwork even more so. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian
Gonçalo Mabunda works with weapons recovered in 1992, when a peace deal ended Mozambique's 16-year civil war. Maputo-born artist Gonçalo Mabunda  is best known for twisting AK-47s, rocket launchers and pistols into anthropomorphic forms
Some of Mabunda’s more iconic pieces, such as tribal thrones made entirely of bullets and masks fashioned from AK-47s, have been exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Pompidou centre in Paris. Fans of his sculptures include the former US president Bill Clinton, who commissioned the artist to create trophies for his philanthropic organisation the Clinton Global Initiative. Photograph: Gonçalo Mabunda
Artist Pedro Reyes holds one of his musical instruments sculpted from recycled guns
Pacifist Pedro Reyes uses art to challenge gun culture in Mexico, one of the most violent countries in the world. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Pedro Reyes
In his Palas por Pistolas project, Reyes persuaded residents of Culiacán to exchange their guns for coupons to buy household appliances. Locals donated 1,527 guns, which were melted to create shovels to plant trees and shrubs, an attempt to both beautify the crime-stricken city and stem the trade of small arms. Photograph: Pedro Reyes
A musical instrument made from recycled gun parts is shown at Pedro Reyes' 'Disarm' exhibition at the Lisson Gallery in London
Given the remnants of 6,700 weapons seized in Ciudad Juárez and destroyed by the Mexican army, Reyes fashioned two groups of instruments. The first, a series called Imagine, is an orchestra of 50 instruments – including flutes, string and percussion – designed to be played live. Above, Violinist Tom Lamb plays an instrument made from recycled guns. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
A musical instrument made from recycled gun parts is shown at Pedro Reyes' Disarm exhibition at the Lisson Gallery in London, UK
For the second series, Disarm, musical instruments were created from the remnants of weapons seized by the Mexican army. The machines, operated by computer, can be programmed to play complex compositions, producing enough sound to fill a large concert hall. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
German blacksmith Manfred Zbrzezny (L) looks at one of his apprentice working  in a workshop on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia
Looking for a change of pace, blacksmith Manfred Zbrzezny moved to Liberia from Germany in 2005. At the time, Africa’s oldest republic was struggling to recover from two successive civil wars that had left a quarter of a million people dead. In an effort to inspire reconciliation among the nation of 4 million people, Zbrzezny joined forces with local youths to launch a weapons conversion project that recycles munitions from the disarmament process. Photograph: Zoom Dosso/AFP/Getty
Items made from AK-47s, bazookas and various weaponry in a workshop on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia, where German blacksmith Manfred Zbrzezny and his apprentices refashion arms used in the country's civil wars into symbols of hope
Eager to expand his work, the German-Italian blacksmith is trying to persuade the UN mission in Liberia to donate its weapons as scrap. Photograph: Zoom Dosso/AFP/Getty
Peace tree by Manfred Zbrzezny
One of Zbrzezny’s most provocative pieces is the lifesize Tree of Peace, sculpted from the barrels of decommissioned AK-47s. The artwork stands as a towering beacon of hope on Providence Island, commemorating the spot where freed US slaves landed in the 19th century to found the new republic. Photograph: François Beaurain/Manfred Zbrzezny
Fyrkuna Metalworks from  German blacksmith Manfred Zbrzezny  specializes in Weapon conversion “arms into art“
A bannister created for a marina. Transforming the arms is a complex, laborious process that can begin only once the weapons have been carefully demobilised. But welders at Zbrzezny’s Fyrkuna Metalworks workshop say melding munitions into ornamental structures is a labour of love that has helped many come to terms with Liberia’s violent past. Photograph: Ken Harper/Togetherliberia.org
Al Farrow has used art to express concern about international arms sales
Born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family, Al Farrow has used art to express concern about international arms sales. His early sculptures include bodies fused to aircraft. More recently he has melded bullets, grenades and other instruments of oppression to create mini 3D replicas of religious buildings. Photograph: alfarrow.com
American sculptor Al Farrow creates models of churches, temples and mosques from bullets and gun parts
Farrow’s Reliquaries series recreates sacred imagery to draw attention to the relationship between war and religion, and to the human rights violations committed in the name of God. Above, the Bombed Mosque. Photograph: alfarrow.com
At the 'Peace of Art' Project workshop, in the outskirts of capital Phnom Penh, Cambodia
In the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, students of the Royal University of Fine Arts transformed rusty AK-47 and M-16 rifles discarded on Cambodian battlefields into sculptural furniture and art. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features
At the 'Peace of Art' Project workshop, in the outskirts of capital Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Peace of Art project was established in 2003 by British artist Sasha Constable – the great-great-great-granddaughter of landscape painter John Constable – and EU arms specialist Neil Wilford. The students, who had no previous experience of working with metals, recycled more than 800 weapons. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

One thought on “Art of war

  1. This is a wonderful idea of taking that which destroys and making something that gives to the community and environment. Wonderful pieces, especially love the idea of the instruments meant to be played.

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