Swords into Plowshares: Peaceful Weapon Recycling
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. -Isaiah 2:4
The familiar Bible verse is repeated in the book of Micah. There are those who are doing just that, whether they draw inspiration from Isaiah or simply from a desire for peace and a safer world. Here are eight projects that make deadly weapons into something to inspire that desire in all of us.
1. Shovels from Guns
Artist Pedro Reyes collected 1,527 guns from the citizens of Culiacán, Mexico by offering coupons for appliances and electronics in exchange. He used the weapons for a project called Palas por Pistolas, in which Reyes had the guns melted down and recast into 1,527 shovel heads to be used to plant 1,527 trees all over the community. Culiacán, which has a high rate of gunshot deaths, also has a botanical garden that commissions artists for community enrichment projects.
2. Furniture from Mines
Naissaar Island in the Gulf of Finland had a large factory that produced marine mines for the Soviet Army. The explosives were burned when the Soviets left the island, leaving thousands of casings behind. Estonian sculptor Mati Karmin has used scrap metal as an art media for a large part of his career. He uses those marine mine casings to create furniture and other useful objects, like light fixtures, bathtubs, and fireplaces -Karmin even made a fully functioning toilet from a mine casing!
3. Reliquaries by Al Farrow
British artist Al Farrow uses guns, bullets, and other military items to construct religious buildings in miniature: churches, synagogues, and mosques, as well as full size religious items and symbols, such as reliquaries and menorahs. The art is a statement about the role of religion in war and other atrocities.
4. Throne of Weapons
The 15-year civil war in Mozambique ended in 1992. By then almost a million people had died as a direct result of violence, with millions more maimed, displaced, or starved. Weapons had been shipped to warring factions from countries all over the world. In 1995, the Christian Council of Mozambique set up a program called “Transforming Arms into Tools” to turn some of those weapons into art as a memorial and a reminder of the horrors of war. One of the sculptures is the Throne of Weapons by artist Cristovao Canhavato consisting of guns originating in seven different countries. Image by Flickr user rvacapinta.
5. Vest of Bullets
Ross Rodriguez works in 2-dimensional art: photography, drawing, and printmaking. But he stepped into 3D territory in 2005 when he created the work Bullet Proof Vest from 30-caliber rifle shells.
6. Memorial Sculpture
The Peace Art Project Cambodia was launched in Phnom Penh in 2003 to gather weapons from thirty years of war and turn them into works of art. The project was founded by artist Sasha Constable and small weapons specialist Neil Wilford, both British citizens. Students used scrap metal and recovered weapons to create everything from small sculptures to furniture to large monuments.
7. The Gun Sculpture
In 2001, artists Wallis Kendal and Sandra Bromley took 7,000 guns of all kinds, from small handguns to rocket launchers, and fused them into a monolith called The Gun Sculpture. The purpose of the piece is to encourage discussions about violence. The artwork has toured all over, most recently as an installation at the United Nations complex in Vienna, Austria, where it was part of The Art of Peacekeeping exhibit last summer.
8. Megatons to Megawatts
In perhaps the most encouraging recycling program ever, the Megatons to Megawatts project pays Russia for weapons-grade uranium and turns it into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants in the US. So far, the program has eliminated the equivalent of 16,000 nuclear warheads! In addition, the Russian Federation receives an influx of cash they desperately need and fewer worries about nuclear disposal, while the US has downblended enough uranium into fuel to replace three years of crude oil imports. Image by Flickr user Mike_tn.