Thousands of recycled weapons tell story of violence at UN exhibit in Vienna

The Gun Sculpture

9 June 2010 – Created from 7,000 weapons that were seized around the world and decommissioned, and welded into a five-ton sculpture, a new installation outside the United Nations complex in Vienna is hoping to turn hearts and minds on the subject of violence.

The Gun Sculpture is part of an exhibition entitled The Art of Peacekeeping that also includes a mural of photographs and stories of victims of war and other forms of violence and a blackboard and book where visitors can leave comments.

The exhibition opened this month at the Vienna International Centre, ahead of a series of UN conferences in June focused on either security or the illicit arms trade.

Artists Wallis Kendal and Sandra Bromley, who completed the sculpture a decade ago, said more than 150,000 people have already left messages on the blackboard or in the book as the artwork has toured various cities, including New York, Seoul and Ottawa.

“We started in 1995 to address the issue of violence, either personal or through war lords or guerrilla action. We wanted to create something that would challenge people to stop and think, and to get them to respond with written comments,” Mr. Kendal told the UN News Centre.

“It is very gratifying when you make an artwork and it provokes people to challenge the accepted way of thinking. When you see them pulling over their friends and creating a dialogue – that’s the main purpose,” Ms. Bromley said.

In Seoul, the messages tended to focus on the division of the Korean Peninsula and the threat of nuclear war; in New York, local residents tended to write about street violence and domestic violence, the artists said.

Mr. Kendal described the photo and story mural as “a central part of the exhibit,” depicting victims of violence that range from police officers to mothers and children.

“We wanted to give people a balance, so they do not just see the sculpture as an artwork but as a catalyst that makes them respond to the suffering,” he added.

Maher Nasser, Director, United Nations Information Service (UNIS), which helped bring the exhibit to Vienna, said it was raising awareness about the impact of violence and small arms.

“I have seen a lot of people touch them [the guns], hold them, and feel the steel. So far, I have resisted that temptation because for me, I just cannot bring myself to hold any of those weapons. I do not want to be associated with the history of the death,” he added.

The sculpture consists of 7,000 weapons ranging from small handguns to AK-47s to landmines, shells and rocket launchers impounded by police from criminal gangs or used in warfare. Each piece has been deactivated with an electric torch that destroyed the interior and one side of the firearm.

“All the weapons bring a different narrative with them,” Ms. Bromley said, recalling a crate she opened from Nicaragua.

“I picked up an AK-47 and literally threw it down because the grief embedded in the weapon was so strong. Some of the weapons seem to hold that, while others are more neutral.”

The exhibit will be on display in Vienna until the end of July, and will then be moved to a yet undetermined location.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

New treaty to combat illicit arms trafficking crucial for Central Africa, says Ban

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews