British Museum blog

London, a world city in 20 objects: Throne of Weapons

Throne of weaponsChristopher Spring, British Museum

Throne of weapons

Throne of weapons. © Kester 2004

From 1977 until 1992 Mozambique, in south-east Africa, fought a civil war which was fuelled by a global power struggle between east and west – the ‘Cold War’. During this period millions of guns were poured into the country via the international arms trade.

Many weapons remained buried or hidden after the war, representing a threat to peace and stability. In 1995 Bishop Dom Dinis Sengulane of the Christian Council of Mozambique set up the Transforming Arms into Tools project, which offered farming equipment and other materials in exchange for guns. Mozambican artists then turned these weapons into sculptures that reflect the collective creativity of the people of Mozambique and their refusal to submit to a culture of violence.

The Mozambique civil war claimed almost one million lives and left five million people displaced. The Throne of Weapons represents both the tragedy of that war and the human triumph of those who achieved a lasting peace. Its anthropomorphic qualities – it has arms, legs, a back and most importantly a face – actually two faces – link it immediately to the arts of Africa, in which non-figurative objects such as chairs, stools, weapons, pots etc are seen and described as human beings.

Although made of guns, the Throne of Weapons harks back to older wooden African stools and thrones used by leaders that showed their prestige, but also their willingness and ability to talk to their fellow men and to the ancestors. The throne is also a contemporary work of art with a global significance, linking the arts of Africa with the Western arts scene, and Mozambique with the global arms trade. None of the guns used were made in Mozambique, or even in Africa, thus it becomes a sculpture in which we are all, one way or another, complicit.

The throne is a war memorial, but it celebrates another kind of courage and another kind of victory. Museums are more and more concerned with portraying intangible as well as tangible heritage as a way of building an emotional bridge with a past inhabited by people rather than by the objects they created, especially when charged with describing traumatic histories of warfare, slavery and the abuse of human rights. The Throne of Weapons allows us to cross that bridge.

This was first published in the London Evening Standard on 29 November 2012.

The Throne of Weapons is on display in Room 25: Africa

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Collection, London: a world city in 20 objects, , ,

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 8,391 other followers

Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

Today we’re launching a new set of online resources with the Department of Education – teaching history with 100 objects.

The first objects are online now and you can find out more about it here: teachinghistory100.org The Great Fire of London swept through the city #onthisday in 1666, destroying old St Paul’s Cathedral #history #london #September is named after the #Latin for 7 as it was the seventh month in the #Roman calendar #art #calendar #months #print Louis XIV of France died #onthisday in 1715, after reigning for 72 years #art #history Electric light is one way the Museum has had to modernise over the years. How will the #MuseumOfTheFuture have to change? Book now for the first debate on 11 Sep to have your say! French artist Ingres was born #onthisday in 1780. Here’s his portrait of #Napoleon becoming a god! #history #art #drawing #france
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,391 other followers

%d bloggers like this: