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Mozambique: Tree of Life
Apr 8, 2005 (050408)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The Tree of Life, a half-tonne sculpture made entirely of weapons
reclaimed after Mozambique's long post-independence war, is among
the major features in a year-long series of exhibits and events in
the UK highlighting African culture and art. A project called
Transforming Arms into Tools, which has collected more than 600,000
weapons in nine years, gets people to hand in old guns in exchange
for goods such as sewing machines, building materials and tools.
These weapons are then chopped up and used to build works of art.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes a press release from Christian
Aid about the exhibit and an interview with one of the artists.
Additional articles, as well as a photo gallery and a collection of
video clips related to the exhibit, are available at
The Tree of Life photo gallery can be accessed directly at
A photo of the sculpture "Throne of Weapons," which is being toured
by the British Museum, is available at
Additional events and exhibits in the BBC Africa05 series are
available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcafrica/africa05
An earlier selection of sculptures from the Transforming Arms into
Tools program, with additional background on more of the artists,
in Portuguese, Danish, and Dutch as well as English, is available
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Tree of guns takes root at the British Museum
A half-tonne sculpture made out of chopped up guns and other
decommissioned weapons will be unveiled at the British Museum on 2
February 2005. The 'Tree of Life' was commissioned by The British
Museum and overseas development charity Christian Aid to coincide
with the start of the Africa 2005 season of cultural events in
Mozambican artists spent three months creating the three-metre-high
sculpture, made entirely out of weapons such as AK-47s, pistols and
rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They see it as a way of using
their art to promote peace.
The weapons are collected by an innovative project, Transforming
Arms into Tools, which exchanges guns for equipment such as sewing
machines, bicycles, and building materials. One village received a
tractor for collecting 500 weapons.
There are still millions of arms hidden throughout Mozambique - a
legacy of the 16-year-long civil war that ended in 1992.
In the last nine years the project, which employs some former child
soldiers, has collected and dismantled more than 600,000 weapons.
Bishop Dom Dinis Sengulane is the founder of Transforming Arms into
Tools, which is supported by Christian Aid.
He said: 'I tell people that sleeping with a gun in your bedroom is
like sleeping with a snake - one day it will turn round and bite
Dr Daleep Mukarji, director of Christian Aid, said: 'It's amazing
to see how Mozambican artists build a culture of peace through
creating fascinating sculptures from dismantled killing machines.
This project encourages people to exchange tools of death with
tools for living.'
The Transforming Arms into Tools project has been so successful in
collecting guns from former soldiers that other African governments
are considering implementing similar schemes.
Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: 'The Tree of
Life is an extraordinary, thought-provoking sculpture which is a
potent emblem of the complexities linking Africa to the rest of the
world. The Museum is delighted to have worked with Christian Aid on
Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world with more
than three quarters of the population living on less than $2 a day.
Such extreme poverty can fuel crime. As long as the guns are still
usable there is a danger that they could end up in the wrong hands
and cause even more death and suffering.
The weapons exchanges have meant that many Mozambicans have been
able to make a living thanks to their new tools.
Filipe Tauzene, a former child soldier, said: 'The life I have now
is much better as before I didn't have the bicycle to move and go
to town and sell things in my shop. I didn't have iron sheets to
cover my house. I have been given very useful things, which means
I can get on with my life.'
For further information please contact Kati Dshedshorov on 020 7523
2452, firstname.lastname@example.org or Hannah Boulton on 020 7323
Notes to editors:
- The Christian Council of Mozambique, a partner organisation of
Christian Aid, has been running the Transforming Arms into Tools
project since 1995. Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela and former
First Lady of Mozambique, is the project's patron.
- Christian Aid and the British Museum commissioned Mozambican
artists from Nucleo de Arte Kester, Fiel dos Santos, Hilario
Nhatugueja, and Adelino Mathe to create the Tree of Life, a three
metre sculpture weighing half a tonne made entirely out of AK47-s
'Kalashnikov', Walther 42-s, German MP40-s and British 4.85mm-s.
- The Africa 2005 Season involves some of the major London
galleries, the Arts Council, the British Museum, the Southbank
Centre, Christian Aid and other UK institutions which have joined
forces to celebrate African art and the cultural diversity of the
continent from February until October 2005.
- Christian Aid is an international development charity and works
in more than 50 countries with over 600 partner organisations
helping some of the poorest communities irrespective of religion,
race and background.
Interview with Fiel dos Santos
by Matt Cunningham, published 9 February, 2005
Fiel dos Santos, 32, is a member of Nucleo de Arte, an artists
collective in Mozambique's capital, Maputo.
After Mozambique's 16-year civil war ended in 1992, the Christian
Council of Mozambique set up a weapons exchange - a guns-for-tools
deal. The surrendered arms were then broken up and given to Nucleo
Fiel and three fellow artists were recently commissioned by
Christian Aid and the British Museum to create a centrepiece work
for the Africa 05 season. The result was the remarkable Tree of
Here, Fiel talks about guns, politics and the art of not selling
Q: You grew up against a backdrop of bloody civil war in your home
country. How has this experience coloured your work?
A: Where I live, 14km outside of Maputo, it wasn't in the centre of
the fighting. But when I was 15 my brother was captured near our
home by the Renamo [the anti-government resistance movement] and
kept for six years. So of course the war affected me and my work.
'My objective is to communicate how it is possible to create a
civilisation for peace, and that it is possible to live in a world
My art is very personal. I try to express feelings I have had and
talk about things that have happened. So at first it was very
difficult to work with the weapons because it brought back a lot of
memories. It was hard to ignore that these things had been used to
Q: What is it that you are trying to say with your Transforming
Arms into Tools pieces, and are you happy that your message comes
A: My objective is to communicate how it is possible to create a
civilisation for peace, and that it is possible to live in a world
The material I have worked with here speaks for itself I try to
make it say something different. So I have turned them into birds,
flowers and animals. Step by step, I try to introduce themes that
make people think about peace and not about war.
I have been having a very positive response from people, but I am
never 100% satisfied, because there's always a time when there is
a big gap between what I say and what some people hear. You keep
Q: Do you see your work as political?
A: In a way yes, but it depends on how you mean political..
Politicians in Mozambique have in the past taken works of art or
songs or such that have a strong political thread and used them for
their own means.
You must remember we have only had democracy for 12 years in
Mozambique. We can remember when everything was dictated by
politicians and politics. Now people have more space to create and
be what they are. For example, before it was very difficult for me
to be a Rastafarian, but now everyone accepts me for what I am. So,
of course, the Tree of Life is political you can't talk about
guns without talking about politics. But I prefer to think of it as
providing civic and political education in an indirect way.
Q: You say 'indirect'. Is it important to you that your art engages
people 'on a level' instead of talking down, or dictating to your
A; The work I do, I get from society. I always try to work with
people, working with others' creativity, artists and non-artists.
I try to understand people, understand what they like to see. But
I also try to use my art to speak back to them. It is like a
It can be really powerful. I have even had people thanking me for
showing them different coordinates, helping them think about things
in a different way.
Two years ago I was working with street children in Maputo. The
results were really rewarding. The idea was to show these children
that they can create something and put it on show. I wanted them to
feel that they have something to say. It gives them a new image of
Q: One of Africa 05's principal aims is to give British art lovers
an idea of where African art is today. How do you see the current
state of art in Africa?
A: Africa is a breeding place for many different kinds of art, and
we have very good artists. However, the artist lives in the moment,
and this means many African artists get lost in trying to sell
their work to the west. It is an illness. I think art should be
innovative, not only for consumption.
Q: So do you think some African artists continue to make so called
'tribal art' purely because it meets the expectations and demands
of western art buyers?
A: Yes, they do. I know a lot of people who work this way. So much
African art is just made to be sold.
I don't appreciate this, and I don't get involved in it. Art and
creativity should bring a spiritual feeling of well-being which is
not in straight relation with consumption.
Art should become someone's livelihood. It should sit alongside
other aspects of your life. Its benefits aren't just to do with
Q: What can Africa 05 change?
A: I believe it will help change people's preconceptions about
Africa and its art here in Britain. But it will also help change
African artists and the way they look at their art.
I hope that artists will start to consider their art in the long
run. For example, this project we started working on it in 2003.
Everything takes time. Hopefully more artists will look for
international projects to look for other ways to create without
just aiming for sales.
So I think Africa 05 will help work as an incentive for more
artists to give more cultural or social meaning to their art.
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