The house in 50 objects from around the world #14: ‘Throne of arms’

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It is not a throne on which a ruler or monarch would feel comfortable. Constructed in 2001 by Mozambican artist Cristóvão Canhavato, aka Kester, from disused weapons used during the Mozambican Civil War (1977-92), the austere chair-sculpture is part of a young nation’s healing process after a conflict in which more than a million people died.

At home, the chair is an everyday object at the center of family life; it is there that one eats, relaxes, communicates, discusses. It suggests a willingness to sit down and listen. But in many cultures, it can also be a symbol of authority.

Here, the corruption of power leads to bloodshed and, as the firearms that shape the chair come from outside the country – Portuguese G3 rifles, Soviet AK47s, North Korean AKMs, Polish and Czechoslovak weapons – this reveals the competing interests and ideologies of international states at the time.

Like the stylized human figures sometimes carved on traditional African stools, two rifle butts with screwed eyes and a strap-slot mouth make blunt-headed military for the back uprights of the upcycled chair.

The weapons came from “Transforming Arms into Tools”, a peace project supported by Christian Aid, the brainchild of Bishop Dinis Sengulane. Inspired by the prophet Isaiah of the Old Testament to transform “swords into plowshares and [ . . . ] billhooks,” he encouraged Mozambicans to give up their hidden arsenal in exchange for “instruments of production”—sewing machines, plows, tractors and bicycles. Even children bringing balls received pens and notebooks in return.

Some 600,000 firearms were surrendered; most were destroyed, others were sent to an artists’ collective in the capital Maputo for creative remodeling. There Kester produced his most famous piece, a chair made not for one person but for a people.

In 2002 the British Museum bought ‘Throne of Weapons’ for £1,200 and it later toured the UK, still appearing regularly as a subject in schools during Black History Month and the Art week. Neil MacGregor, former director of the museum, featured it in his epic A history of the world in 100 objectscalling it the “cold war as furniture” and observing how a body and a chair share the same vulnerable parts: legs, feet, arms, back.

“Throne of Weapons” is not currently on display. It is “at rest” for conservation purposes. His absence is related to the fragility of the planet and peace in Mozambique.

britishmuseum.org

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