Today again, and just as it happened with our previous posts on the Tree of Life, the Transforming Arms into Art Project or the Freedom sculpture, we bring you another art piece produced within the scope of a humanitarian project devised with a deep concern for social awareness and social justice. Its ultimate objective is that of encouraging a culture of peace in a country emerging from a sixteen-year long civil war. We are referring to the unique project “Transforming Arms into Art” developed in Mozambique. We, therefore, expect to touch your hearts and alert you to the global need for solidarity and against the destructiveness fuelled by illicit arms trade throughout the world.
The “Throne of Africa”, a sculpture on permanent exhibition at the British Museum, is also made of decommissioned dismantled guns and was created in 2001 by one of the four Mozambican sculptors, Cristóvão Canhavoto (known as Kester) who also worked on the “Tree of Life”. These weapons were previously used by combatants on both sides of that devastating civil war and were voluntarily handed over and exchanged for agricultural, domestic and construction tools.
This thought-provoking sculpture, which has been considered as the British Museum’s most eloquent object, is displayed on a plinth inside a glass case in the Introductory Room to the African Sainsbury Galleries. The guns used in its construction were manufactured in Portugal, Eastern Europe, North Korea, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia. In fact, the Russian contribution of the iconic AK47 rifle is important to the design, as this lethal weapon is featured on the Mozambique flag. The information label provided for this awesome sculpture includes a schematic drawing of the “Throne”, showing the identification and origin of every weapon used in its creation, therefore highlighting the dramatic and ironic connections still at work nowadays between Africa and the West in the globalised world of the 21st-century.
Precisely for the deep meaning the “Throne” carries, this was the piece chosen by the British Museum to be taken on a tour during 2005, so as to extend the message of the ‘Africa 2005’ event beyond London. In fact, this sculpture may have been shown in a wider variety of ways than any other. It was on exhibition at unexpected venues, including schools and prisons around the UK and Ireland. Several activities were fuelled around this mesmerizing and somewhat disturbing art piece, namely workshops, debates, educational projects such as recycling classes, film production or poetry workshops.
In Pentonville Prison, London, a two-week project with fourteen prisoners of different races and ages brought them together to explore through text, music, photography and video, the metaphor for social and personal change conveyed by the “Throne”. Another particularly important venue on this tour was the Ulster Museum in Belfast, owing to the background of violence and conflict that has prevailed in this territory, where it provoked the most divergent reactions.
If we bear in mind that in many African societies chairs are symbols of authority and of the willingness to sit and listen, which is an essential pre-requisite for mutual understanding, we can grasp the deep meaning of this sculpture and its power to touch the feelings of all those who look at it and learn about the (hi)story of its creation.