Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Artist creates objects of beauty from instruments of death

By Tim Hume, for CNN
March 22, 2012 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
A tribal-inspired mask made from a rifle butt, bullets and other military equipment by Mozambican sculptor Goncalo Mabunda.
A tribal-inspired mask made from a rifle butt, bullets and other military equipment by Mozambican sculptor Goncalo Mabunda.
HIDE CAPTION
Goncalo Mabunda: Mozambican sculptor
Goncalo Mabunda: Mozambican sculptor
Goncalo Mabunda: Mozambican sculptor
Goncalo Mabunda: Mozambican sculptor
Goncalo Mabunda: Mozambican sculptor
Goncalo Mabunda: Mozambican sculptor
Goncalo Mabunda: Mozambican sculptor
Goncalo Mabunda: Mozambican sculptor
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Goncalo Mabunda is an acclaimed sculptor from Maputo, Mozambique's capital
  • He creates masks, thrones and figures out of weapons used in Mozambique's wars
  • More than 800,000 firearms have been collected by the church group which supplies him
  • His work has been exhibited in London, Paris, Tokyo and Dusseldorf

London (CNN) -- The concept of converting "swords to plowshares" -- turning from war towards constructive, peaceful endeavors -- is as old as the Bible.

Today, in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, the principle is being put into practice in a strikingly modern way, as the demobilization of weapons from two brutal wars fuels an international arts success story.

Goncalo Mabunda is an acclaimed sculptor who creates objects of beauty from instruments of death.

From his workshop in Maputo, he fashions his artworks -- masks, thrones and figures -- from decommissioned weapons and military equipment.

AK-47s, land mines, rocket launchers, soldiers' boots and helmets, even sections of tank: all are warped and melded to create vivid sculptures sought by galleries and collectors around the world.

The work, says Mabunda, is "trying to represent each [person] who died with this same material." At the same time, the creation of each piece has a very practical consequence.

Transforming weapons to art

"If we destroy the weapons, the same weapon's not going to kill any more," he said.

Read also: The tiny African nation that's a rapper's delight

Even after 20 years of peace, Mozambique, a country of about 24 million people in south east Africa, still labors under the legacy of conflict.

A ten-year insurrection against the Portuguese colonial powers prior to independence in 1975 was swiftly followed by a 16-year-long civil war, leaving the country dotted with hidden troves of weapons and unexploded ordnance.

Since 1995, a group of local churches, the Christian Council of Mozambique, has been working to recover weapons from the community, exchanging surrendered guns for tools or building materials through a program called "Transforming Guns into Hoes."

Inspired by the pacifist-spirited verse from the Book of Isaiah -- "They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks" -- the program has recovered more than 800,000 weapons to be destroyed, some of them through the hands of artists like Mabunda.

A full-time artist since 1997, Mabunda told CNN that his earlier works were characterized by insecurity, as he was uncertain how long his country's fragile peace would last.

His work has since moved in new directions, yet is always informed by the experiences that have shaped his homeland, and an interest in its collective memory.

If we destroy the weapons, the same weapon's not going to kill any more
Goncalo Mabunda, Mozambican sculptor

Mabunda is best known for his "thrones" -- chairs made from the twisted metal of guns, symbolizing the power held by strongmen. "If you're a soldier, you fight all day, but you have some hours you need to rest," he said.

Read also: Dedicated followers of fashion: Congo's designer dandies

A recent exhibition in London, his first solo show in the British capital, also showcased a new direction: a series of tribal-inspired masks created from gun butts and bullets, drawing on African art traditions as well as referencing Mozambique's troubled recent history.

The masks "were responded to extremely well," by London audiences, said Jack Bell, whose gallery hosted Mabunda's latest exhibition. "They certainly play on form from traditional African art, but have a strong connection to modern and contemporary art," he said, citing comparisons to Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet and Georges Braque.

A world away from the London art scene, Mabunda works to shape new pieces in his workshop. While it is through exhibitions in Paris, Tokyo and Dusseldorf that his pieces are finding acclaim, it is here that he hopes they will have the biggest impact.

Mabunda was first exposed to weapons through his uncle, a soldier in the ruling party's military wing, when he was only seven years old. "I was proud about him when I was very young."

By confronting Mozambique's war-torn past on both a conceptual and a practical level, he hopes to play a part in ensuring future generations don't grow up under the shadow of conflict.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
CNN's Zain Verjee took on Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in a bid to see its mountain gorillas.
March 21, 2014 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
March 3, 2014 -- Updated 1059 GMT (1859 HKT)
"The Samaritans" is a new Kenyan comedy that takes a mocking look at the world of inept African aid organizations.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
A Moroccan food blogger presents her interactive guide to the country's tastiest dishes.
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
South African photographer Frank Marshall captured Botswana's heavy metal rockers as part of his Renegades series.
You might not associate Botswana with rock music, but in recent years its heavy metal scene has been making a name for itself.
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
A Cameroon supporter smiles during celebrations after Cameroon qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil after winning the second leg qualifying football match between Cameroon and Tunisia on November 17, 2013 in Yaounde.
Known for its diverse geography and culture, Cameroon could be on the dawn of becoming known for tourism.
January 21, 2014 -- Updated 1116 GMT (1916 HKT)
The world's only "Flying Eye Hospital" is a DC-10 jet that flies around the world carrying out sight-saving operations.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, explodes spilling lava down the mountain sides and shooting ash into the sky October 30, 2002 near the town of Nicolosi, near Catania, Italy.
A Kenyan TV production set in the year 2063 imagines a world where European refugees are fleeing to Africa.
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Tour d'Afrique
The Tour d'Afrique is a four-month, 12,000 km cycle race across the length of Africa.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT