Arms into art: Weapons of mass creation

Story highlights

  • Craftsmen in Liberia transform scrap weapons into artwork
  • Their art ranges from furniture and candle stands to lamps and trees
  • Liberia descended into a vicious civil war in 1989 that last for 14 years
  • Fyrkuna Metalworks say its work is part of the nation's healing process

Manfred Zbrzezny wants to bulk up his arsenal.

For the past few years, the founder of the Liberia-based Fyrkuna Metalworks and his team of skilful craftsmen have been collecting weapons scrap -- relics of the West African country's vicious civil conflict -- for their Arms into Art project.

From their open-sided workshop near Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, the artisans expertly cut, melt and weld scrap metals to fashion them into intricate sculptures.

In their hands, decommissioned AK-47s, RPG launchers and bazookas are transformed into elaborate candle stands, whimsical lamps and even life-size metal trees.

"What was an instrument of suffering can become something beautiful and useful," says Zbrzezny, a German/Italian artistic blacksmith who's been calling Liberia home since the mid-2000s.

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"I want to do something serene out of all these things that are violent and nasty," he adds. "I prefer doing my pieces a little bit funny or sweet, instead of doing something macabre or rough."

Remnants of war

For materials, Fyrkuna first relied on the decommissioned instruments of warfare gathered during Liberia's disarmament process.

On some occasions, individuals who've come to know their work have also brought in discarded guns they've found for the craftsmen to work with.

Zbrzezny, whose team of Liberian workers includes four staff and two trainees, says he is now looking to expand the project and hopefully export of some of his artwork abroad.

Read this: Artwork shows conflict in new light

"I am trying to convince the United Nations mission in Liberia to turn over their weapons scrap to me so I could continue this work," he says.

'Healing process'

Liberia, the oldest republic in Africa, descended into darkness in 1989, mired in the grip of a brutal civil war that shattered much of its economy and infrastructure.

Read this: Fixing Liberia's water crisis

Although the fighting came to an end in 2003, leaving an estimated 250,000 people dead and thousands more displaced, many in Liberia still bear the deep scars of years of conflict.

"There's nobody who wasn't affected by the war," says Zbrzezny, who first traveled to Liberia before the end of the conflict in 2003.

He describes Fyrkuna's work as a way of helping the nation heal its wounds by transforming the destructive devices of its war-torn past into something positive.

"Looking at Arms into Art the majority of people remains thoughtfully silent," he says. "This moment of silence acts like a flashback, a remembering of the war and ... is also an indicator for me that there is a long psychological work to do on the war issue.

"There is still a lot of digestion on that and I hope somehow I'm part of that."