Monday, 12 August 2013

The Art of Peace

Peace begins with a smile, said Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And, indeed, a smile can be our first reaction when we set eyes on the art objects created by Sonia Rentsch in her “Harm Less” series (2013). In fact, she composes guns, grenades, bullets and other weapons by resorting exclusively to organic products, such as flowers, leaves, seeds or roots, thereby completely neutralising the lethal power associated to the objects she ironically mimics.

Sonia Rentsch is a Melbourne-based Still Life Artist, who graduated from Industrial Design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia. After successful professional experiences, she has ventured into working alone, following her belief that “there is beauty to be found in everything”, to quote her.

Drawing her materials from Nature, she creates weapons out of harmless plants, which may even look like toys meant for children’s war games. Their forms, however, are unmistakably recognisable and may evoke strong emotional responses. The unexpected contrast between matter and shape is quite effective as the artist’s statement of her position against violence, since she playfully transfers dangerous human creations back into a natural environment, thereby annihilating the destructive intent behind the production of weapons. Rentsch’s works may be regarded as somewhat complex, insofar as they are beautiful, but also disturbing.

Inevitably Sonia Rentsch’s “Harm Less” series of works immediately reminds us of the Tree of Life sculpture and other works produced in Mozambique, in which real guns used in a civil war were made unusable and dismantled to make works of art meant to celebrate the peace in the meantime achieved.

Significant and deep differences between the two projects, however, deserve our attention. An interesting detail lies in the fact that the “Harm Less” series uses as its medium ephemeral raw material, which, in the present context, could be associated with the consumerism that has been the hallmark of Western, wealthy and peaceful societies. On the other hand, works resulting from the Mozambican project are made of perennial and dangerous materials, illustrative of the kind of life on the brink that has always been that of most African nations. In fact, be it because of wars and/or as a result of extreme poverty, nothing can be discarded in Africa and everything must be used to the very end of its resources. This difference stresses the inequality prevailing between these two worlds, in spite of – or even made more obvious by – globalisation.

Another striking contrast is that, whereas in the case of “Harm Less”, innocuous natural materials are used to represent lethal weapons in a statement for peace and against violence, the “Transforming Arms into Works of Art” project was created to destroy actual weapons and use them in the production of sculptures representing plants, animals and people depicted in common peaceful everyday activities with the very same purpose – that of celebrating peace.

Yet another relevant difference springs from the fact that, while “Harm Less” is the creation of an artist dwelling in a society who has the privilege of enjoying peace, the sculptures crafted in Mozambique are the painful evidence of a country which suffered long years of a devastating civil war, which took the lives of an estimated one million people. While the former is a strong and ironic statement for peace, the latter is the outcome of the excruciating experience of violence.  Both, however, have the common objective of working as an anthem to Peace.

In short, whether created in Peace or at war, it seems that both initiatives are on the same route and have the same destination, although having departed from very different origins, which, curiously enough, correspond to the West in one case, and to the “Rest” in the other. And this, ultimately, can make you smile when you ponder on such an irony. But then... peace begins with a smile, right?

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