Mozambique is a place most Americans can't find on a map. It doesn't have any oil. It doesn't have any gold. It doesn't have any diamonds. It doesn't have anything at all that the west wants. It's just a miserable hunk of land where people butchered each other in a bloody civil war that lasted for sixteen years — from 1975 to 1994 — because, to be blunt, nobody in the first world cared about black-on-black violence in Africa unless natural resources were involved. (Don't get me started on the Sudan, where Muslims militias are killing, raping, looting, and enslaving the animists and Christians. Oh, and destroying their villages, too. It's just a wonderful orgy of the Koran.) Anyway, when the civil war finally ended the people of Mozambique had a problem: what to do with all the weapons.
They couldn't leave them in the hands of the people, lest the war be rekindled. But they couldn't buy them back and then let them go into neighboring countries, either. Rather than just round up all the weapons, cut them up, and melt them down, the country disabled them and turn them over to Nucleo de Arte, an artists collective:
Fiel dos Santos, 32, is a member of Nucleo de Arte, an artists collective in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.
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 without war'
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 kill.
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 across clearly?
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 without war.
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."Fiel dos Santos" by Matt Cunningham, 9 February 2005
The sculptor Fiel dos Santos runs his fingers over the silent rifles and deactivated grenades and remembers the machine gun blasts that shook his neighborhood and his childhood. But then he pulls on his goggles and fires his welding machine, and the guns buckle, change, transform.
"There are times when I start thinking, 'This killed, this killed, this killed,' and then the weapons are difficult to touch," said Mr. dos Santos, 27. "But by creating this art, I'm destroying these weapons," he added. "I'm creating something new, something that will make people think differently of the war."
Seven years after the fighting ended, young artists here in the capital are turning weapons of destruction into sculpture that celebrates everyday life in Mozambique's postwar society. Using machine guns, rocket launchers and land mines given up by former combatants, the artists are creating whimsical images and transforming the deadly instruments that devastated their country."Arts Abroad: Swords Into Whimsy Instead of Plowshares" by Rachel L. Swarns, New York Today, 29 December 1999
Sources and Further Reading
- Nucleo de Arte
- "Mozambique Turns Arms Into Art", BBC News, 17 January, 2002
- "The Tree of Life", Pressureworks (gallery of Tree of Life)
- Cascon Case MOZ: Mozambique Civil War 1975-94