Transformaçaõ de Armas em Enxadas

Cristovao Canhavato (Kester). Throne of Weapons, 2001Transformaçaõ de Armas em Enxadas (Transforming Arms into Tools) is a project initiated by Bishop Dinis Sengulane in Mozambique in 1992 to exchange the weapons accumulated during the 1976-1992 civil war for tools such as sewing machines, bicycles, hoes and shovels.  One village exchanged all their arms for a tractor.  The weapons are decommissioned, cut up into scrap metal which is then used by artists. 

The resulting sculptures are powerful anti-war statements, diagrammatic in their political import:  the first image on the TAE website is of a saxophone made from an AK-47 and a bazooka. The caption reads: 'It is the antithesis of the weapons used to construct it. It regroups people rather than separating them. It's an instrument of peace rather than an instrument of death.'

In 2005, in conjunction with Christian Aid which supports TAE, Bishop Sengulane gave an enormous Tree of Life to the British Museum.  It is as one would expect, a large metal baobab tree trunk made of gun barrels. 

A more subtle piece is Throne of Weapons, 2001, by Cristovao Canhavato (Kester) who studied at the Núcleo de Arte in Maputo in 1998, becoming involved in the TAE project.  This is a generation of artists, many of whom were child soldiers, who grew up knowing only civil war and the tools of civil war.  Art here is instrumental in turning those tools – chunks of metal, plastic and wood – into things that war cannot appropriate. 

The Throne of Weapons which featured recently on BBC's A History of the World in 100 Objects turns the weapons of war back into politics: thrones, chairs, seats – these are the euphemisms for power, especially during war when it is those who sit in chairs that conduct the war, not the children with the AK-47s.  

Stephanie WhiteAfrica, sculpture, war