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Art inspires Mozambicans to 'learn war no more'

United Methodist Fiel dos Santos creates sculptures from dismantled weapons as part of a peace project in Mozambique called "Turning Weapons into Ploughshares." UMNS photos by John Gordon.

"He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." –Isaiah 2:4

By Joey Butler*
Nov. 7, 2007 | MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS)

While guns are viewed as anything but beautiful, a group of artists in Mozambique is turning artillery into art and, in the process, teaching others to "beat their swords into ploughshares."

Based on Isaiah 2:4, "Turning Weapons into Ploughshares" is a collaborative effort between a local artist collective and the Christian Council of Mozambique.

The council collects caches of weapons left behind by Mozambique’s 16-year civil war, renders them unusable and gives them to local artists to be transformed into sculptures. The gun parts have been transformed into musicians, birds, even chairs and tables.

Fiel dos Santos, an artist in the Núcleo de Arte collective, seeks peaceful images in his work. "I make mostly birds, because the bird is a symbol of peace. When we want to fly, when we want to be free, we think about the birds," he said.

A United Methodist, dos Santos takes the project’s message to heart. During the civil war, his brother was kidnapped by rebels and held for six years. "This project is my contribution to society," he said.

Boaventura Zita coordinates the Ploughshares project, a partnership of artists and the Christian Council of Mozambique.

National coordinator Boaventura Zita says the idea for Turning Weapons into Ploughshares came from a chance meeting with an elderly woman who asked what could be done about all the weapons. The Christian Council arranged with the Mozambican government to collect arms. In many cases, citizens exchange guns for tools, bicycles, grain or other necessities. One village exchanged 500 guns discovered in a dump for a tractor.

Legacy of war

Mozambique’s civil war killed more than 1 million people, displaced 2 million and, though the conflict ended in 1992, left damages to the economic infrastructure still felt today.

"Guerilla warfare means you have to hide weapons and only some people know about them," said Zita.

When the war ended, the stockpiles remained hidden — a danger not only to children who may run across them accidentally but also contributing to a vast underground gun trade. Widespread poverty in Mozambique encourages many to sell guns they have or find in exchange for food. Others, conditioned by years of war, hold on to their weapons for security.

A sculpture made of disabled weaponry was created by an artist in the Núcleo
de Arte collective.

"We must convince people of the need for them to give up their guns as a gesture to contribute for peace," Zita said. "Weapons are meant to kill and impose ideas by force; we must work to find better ways to settle our differences."

Zita likes the concept of turning weapons of war into objects of art. "In the past, this weapon used to kill people and create havoc. Today it is something worthwhile to our society," he said.

Not only is the cause worthwhile, but the subsequent art has gained worldwide attention. Pieces have been displayed at the United Nations building in New York, the Netherlands, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe. In 2005, dos Santos collaborated with several artists on the "Tree of Life," a 10-foot-tall sculpture constructed entirely of gun parts, commissioned and displayed by the British Museum in London.

"Our art shows the world without guns could be better," said dos Santos. "We destroy the guns and use them in a good way."

*Butler is managing editor of Interpreter magazine, the official magazine of The United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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