The matter of collective memory and trauma in the art of Goncalo Mabunda is undermined to the core. The decision to produce almost all of his artworks out of used arms suggests how profound his position is. By focusing on his own personal war experience the artist is dealing not only with the duality of collective and personal, rather he is taking the whole narrative further by undermining the horridness of atrocities and the use of arms in general. Furthermore, Mabunda is critically articulating heritage and race in regards to the omnipresent colonialism and rather fragmented political climate in Africa.
Becoming The Artist Through Hard Times
Goncalo Mabunda was born in 1975, in Maputo, Mozambique. Practically from his birth, he was exposed to violence due to the ongoing civil war which started in 1977 and lasted till 1992. After the peace was declared, Mabunda took part in the social reconstruction of his country by working on a project whose mission was to exchange weapons for farming tools. Soon afterward, he became gallery manager at the Núcleo de Arte, an art collective made up of a group of seven young sculptors and the epicenter of art in Maputo. Several years later, he participated in a three months course in metal and bronze sculpture at the Natal Technikon in South Africa. After the return, he joined the project Arms into Art, a project run by a Mozambican Christian organization that transforms weapons into art pieces and since 1997 started working fully as an artist.
The politically charged works are rather suggestive, though beautiful
The Choice of Material
For a long period of time, the arms were a part of Mabunda’s everyday life so the decision to use it as a material for creating art appeared to be logical. He started producing sculptures out of deactivated arms which were stocked and hidden during the long civil war which divided Mozambique. His agenda was based on denouncing the absurdity of war and at the same time dissecting the western myths about primitive savages in the light of the terrible effects of colonization of African continent. Mabunda sought out that the best tool for articulating the complexity of the civil war and violence, in general, is to use old and abandoned Kalashnikovs, rockets, guns and bullets and transform it in gracious, yet terrifying relics.
Undermining the severity of war trauma
About The Thrones and Masks
The African ethnic tradition largely rests on several models of representation, yet the figure of the tribe chief is perhaps the most iconic. Therefore, Mabunda decided to process that embodiment of the power and to critically point out the present African governments who often manipulate tragically armed violence to reinforce their power. The masks, on the other hand, undermine the notion of what African art is and are somehow reminiscent of avant-garde art, especially
Cubism and Futurism. They seem as if they are here to warn us and protect us from the evil spirits and this ambiguity perfectly suggests Mabunda’s eagerness to express both the creativity of his fellow people and the immense horror that they have been exposed due to the inside as well as outside politics.
Almost mechanised tribal idols
The Interest And Recognition
The increasing interest in work of Goncalo Mabunda has been shown over the years so he exhibited in a large number of museums around the world from Centre Pompidou, over Brooklyn Museum in New York to the Vatican Museum. The artist was selected to represent Mozambique at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2015. The same year one of his works was almost demolished while trying to pass the US customs due to collectors commission.  Despite having all the documents, the custom’s representatives consider it as a proper weapon and were not eager to pass it although several other artworks already were transferred to their owners. Ironically, this particular case perfectly reflects the thin line between art and life in regards to the Mabunda’s articulation of what weapon is and how the very thought or presence of it delivers unease and stands like some threat.
Goncalo Mabunda lives and works in Maputo, Mozambique.
- Hume, T. (2012): Artist creates objects of beauty from instruments of death, CNN [January 09 2017]
- Voon, C. (2015): US Customs Officials Confiscate Sculpture Made of Weapons, Hyperallergic [January 09 2017]
Featured image: Portrait of Goncalo Mabunda in front of his artwork – image courtesy of Create Hub Gallery
All other images for illustrative purposes only