You have just one more week to catch this show by sculptor and anti-war activist Gonçalo Mabunda. The Mozambique-based artist refashions Kalashnikovs, rockets, pistols, rifles, bombs and grenades and transforms them into life-like figures, thrones and masks. Mabunda, who works mainly in his open-air studio in Maputo, aims to explore the collective memory of his home country that has been scarred by a long and violent Civil War. His work draws on motifs of traditional Sub-Saharan African Art, but also references Modernists such as Braque and Picasso.
After the 16 year long conflict ended in 1992, several aid organisations launched initiatives to collect and de-activate countless weapons that remained scattered throughout Mozambique’s countryside. Mabunda often sources his materials from these recycled arms collections, deconstructs them and inventively welds them into new forms.
A new body of three-dimensional works, all made in 2019, is currently on view in the exhibition Orator of Time at Jack Bell Gallery, ranging from wall-based masks to single and double thrones.
As beautiful and sacred as the sculptures in the gallery seem to be at first sight, the viewer can quickly spot the remains of weapons that serve, for example, as legs or arm rests for Mabunda’s majestic thrones, which carry captivating titles such as Throne of the Intellectuals or The Rooted Throne. Masks like The Architect of the Distant and The G8 Farmer reveal how the artist has masterfully transformed bullet casings into what looks like hair or eyes.
Mabunda’s sculptures carry a strong political message by making reference to illegal international arms deals that continue to fuel current conflicts on the African continent. They also seem to comment on African military regimes and their misuse of power.
To me, they also speak of current issues around repatriation of the countless objects that were brought from the continent to our museums and private collections during colonial times and after. The artist’s references to traditional African Art – but in his case made from weapons – seem to express the struggles that many African nations face today when trying to reconnect to their local traditions and histories, which were undermined by colonial power and violence for centuries.
The fusion of weaponry into art objects can additionally be read as an ironic take on the artist’s childhood experience dominated by the Civil War, highlighting the conflict that had isolated his county for such a long period.
By using recovered weapons, Mabunda’s work carries a transformative, positive message of how further violence can maybe be prevented, and that destroying the weapons of war can be done in an aesthetic and artistic way. By turning weapons into lifelike figures and everyday objects the artist literally seems to turn death into life and Mabunda states: “My pieces prove that objects of violence can be transformed into something positive and something beautiful. Not only that but – to me – the reworked weapons represent the resiliency and creativity of African civilian societies.”
Mabunda is representing his country at Palazzo Mora for this year’s Venice Biennale with two fellow Mozambican artists. But if you haven’t seen his unique and characteristic work before, catch this show while you can.
Jack Bell Gallery, 13 Masons Yard, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6BU. Open Wednesday-Friday 12.00-17.00, and by appointment. Exhibition continues until 31 May 2019. www.jackbellgallery.com