The Arts

Gun and Land-Mine Scrap into Art

Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov must be a name most Mozambicans hate. His invention, the AK-47 rifle, is responsible for the deaths of up to 1 million people in a civil war that pitted the fighting groups Frelimo and Renamo against each other.

But one man has found a redeeming way to transform the AK-47 and other killing and maiming devices like land mines. Visiting Mozambican artist Feil dos Santos’ display of sculpture in the exhibition From Weapons to Art at the Afriart Gallery at the Uganda Manufacturers Association show grounds in Lugogo [Kampala] is a show of a man coming to terms with a trying time in his country’s history and his own life.

The pieces share something in common—their rusty nature. They are made from gun and land-mine scrap and joined together by Dos Santos’ dexterity at using welding rods to create his eye-catching work. Take Dual Surrender, a human sculpture in which he uses AK-47 gun-trigger handles for ears and bullet shells for hair. It depicts a man seated with one leg stretched, his arms bent at the elbows and the wrists, and the hands stretched outward. He looks like he is begging for alms, because in the ordinary surrender mode you put your hands at the back of your head. Dos Santos says it shows a man resigned to his fate.

Melody shows a man playing a harmonica. Various gun parts form his limbs. Dos Santos says most Mozambicans found solace in music after the war ended in 1992. Crawler conjures the image of a destructive insect in a sci-fi movie. AK-47 gun rods form its legs while gun springs form the insect’s antennae.

Dos Santos did not go out looking for the guns himself. A nongovernmental organization called Christian Concern collected the guns for him in a scheme that sees the NGO ask people to hand in their old guns in exchange for tools like bicycles and sewing machines that they can use to rebuild their lives. As Dos Santos explains to curious exhibition goers in a smattering of English, it is difficult living in a war zone. The anguish shows on his face as he tells of his family’s happiness at seeing his brother who was fighting alongside the Renamo rebels return home in one piece. Dos Santos, who lives 14 kilometers from Maputo, his country’s capital, says he also lost his car in the 2000 floods.

The exhibition was preceded by a workshop that had Ugandan artists try their hand at wielding welding rods with goggles over their eyes. Most of the artists delved into contemporary subjects, and it was quite easy to tell most of them could not relate to any war situation, maybe because they were too young the last time we had a war.