War, of course, is a terrible thing. It destroys lives and societies. It reaches in and corrupts the big picture and the individual with equal measure. When conflict is unavoidable, because differing interests compete for precedence, resorting to harming each other is a barbaric and animalistic way for dealing with the situation. Often armed conflict begins with one side striking at the other side's ability to pose a threat. So in order to protect one interest, another's interests are violated with a given moral grounding. It's easy to see how self-protectionism can result in violence even if no one side is looking for a fight. If a perceived threat becomes severe enough then it becomes a protagonist. What does it all mean? It means that posturing and trying to look strong among neighbours in order to appease a national identity has to take second place to actual function. If the posturing and war of words spills over and takes primary place then it naturally results in conflict.
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Perhaps sometimes we can forget what war means. It can be sold to us as a grand gesture to free an oppressed people and to rid the world of some formidable evil. The problem is that this story doesn't wash with those caught up in it first hand. People involved in war go through extreme trauma and hardship. Many people lose their lives, affecting scores of their friends and family. Others are horrifically injured. Most people who are casualties of war are not evil people. A lot of them are simply individuals who made a choice to conscript to an armed force just like our own armed forces did. They put their faith in the command to give them jobs worth fighting for. It's back to the conflict of interest again, nothing to do with wanting to unveil some evil master-plan in their eyes, just protecting the interests of their state.
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So if not many of us are actually evil master-minds, and the majority of us are honest, hard working, and perhaps a little too trusting of our own governments, why do we insist on fighting each other? What drives another to feel that someone on the other side is someone who deserves to die? Anger, prejudice, misinformation, and simple misunderstandings can all lead to polarised opinions. Make someone deeply angry, convince them its someone's fault, and give them a gun then you've got a nasty situation. Perhaps we all need to remember that we make stupid mistakes when we're angry, and we're more likely to believe bad things about a person if we're angry with them. It's a cycle that can be seeded with lies and grow into a web of half-truth which makes the lie seem true.
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Snipping the web, waking people up to the reality of conflict, and putting an end to the glorification of military might is something that many artists try to do. Perhaps one of the more successful ones is Gonçalo Mabunda. Recently represented by This Is Not A White Cube, an Angolan art gallery, the assemblage artist has created several pieces made from the remains of the war in Mozambique. The civil war there was a brutal conflict that saw the loss of many lives, the destruction of many communities, and a lot of hurtful language used to describe many people. It lasted for 16 years.
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When the war was over, the government commissioned artists to turn the litter of the battlefield into works of art. Using the now safe and historically relevant objects allowed their emotional relevance to be communicated in a way that filters the original brutality of the medium. Fragments of war like old mine casings, shrapnel, bullet cartridges, and a whole list of other bits from various vehicles and weapons are given new life. Adapting the material to fit an African art production naturally caused quite a stir. Is it right to encourage people to collect bits of landmine? Of course, common sense tells you to always get your pieces of landmine from an official supplier and not go looking for them.
By applying the use of colour in the various metallic and painted objects, and the mass produced objects such as casings, a mixture of exploration and pattern can be found in the pieces. Traditional African ideas are clearly apparent in the design, yet the medium grants the work a universal fixture which resonates with any modern culture. Let's remember that the only good reason to go to war is to stop a war that's already happening.
Read an interview with Gonçalo Mabunda on Art Africa.
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