The tropical coastal plain beneath one of the world’s poorest countries is soiled with blood that eventually seeps into the Indian Ocean. About 1 million people died here, defending their home and rights. Rifles and bullets played a huge part in this destruction, but human spirit was not lost, “To take away instruments of death from the hands of young people and to give them an opportunity to develop a productive life” (1), is the present Mozambique enterprise, in Southern Africa. Optimism is a relatively new future after 16 years of civil war that left behind an estimated 70 million guns. It all began in 1505, when Mozambique was a Portuguese Colony and remained that way for 470 years. Then the people of Mozambique acquired independence in 1975 and within a decade, the National Government of Mozambique was threatened. Anti-government guerrillas opposed the new government and civil war broke out. In 1995, Mozambique became a member of the British Commonwealth and thankfully the war ended.
Emerging from tragedy was an organization that facilitates exchange of weapons previously used by combatants for household, farming and construction tools; it is known as the Transformaçaõ de Armas em Enxadas (Transforming Arms into Tools). Promoting utopia, this organization commissioned an artist to contrive a symbol of human strength and monument to the victims of the Mozambique Civil War. Artist Cristovao Canhavato received this honor and was supplied with a variety of decommissioned weapons for a sculpture, “I wasn’t affected directly by the Civil War, but I have two relatives who lost their legs…” (2). Born in 1966 in Zavala, Mozambique, Canhavato was trained in technical engineering construction, but eventually changed course. He attended the Núcleo de Arte in Maputo, a multi-arts and culture organization and began creating art under the name Kester.
Throne of Weapons is a chair sculptured out of guns and was designed by Kester in 2001 in Maputo, Mozambique. In African tradition, a chair or stool signifies power and progression of a king or chief. They are also considered spiritual, “They were understood to be the seat of the owner’s soul and when not in use were leaned against a wall so that other souls passing by would not settle on it” (3). Kester’s creation is a compilation of weaponry and functionality. The seat is a mixture of rifles collected from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Capable of selective firing at a rate of 600 rounds a minute is the Russian designed AKM assault rifle functioning as side leg supports. Displayed between the front legs is the Soviet designed PPS submachine gun that was intended as a low-cost personal defense weapon. The arm rests are Russian designed AK47’s capable of providing submachine firepower with rifle accuracy. Symbolizing a church is the backrest of the chair. To accomplish this, Heckler and Koch G3 German manufactured battle rifles were used along with their curved aluminum ammunition magazines. These selective-fire automatic weapons are rare and expensive. Also on the backrest top right rifle butt is an anomaly explained by Kester, “I didn’t carve the smile, it’s part of the rifle butt . . . the screw holes, and the marks left from where the strap was attached to the gun. I wanted to just use the gun as it was, not change it. So I chose the guns and the weapons that had the most expression” (2).
I find the Throne of Weapons to be a fascinating, heart retching and contradictive sculpture. When I first examined this piece, I thought the chair was made of wood; the rusty appearance of the steel and aluminum weapon metal, definitely fooled me. I thought the chair exuded a gothic quality with its connected curves of the magazine clips and symbolism of an historical event. I feel tremendous grief and glory when I examine the complex layers of meaning and symbolism embedded in this piece. As I learned about the weapons used in the sculpture, I discovered the intended purpose of each gun parallels the symbolism of the African stool. Recycling barbaric symbols of death convinces me that the people of Mozambique have ideal morals and forgiveness not common in today’s society. This memorable sculpture currently can be found on display at in a British Museum.