AKA47 as Art?

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Guns have always proved an interesting object-cum-subject for many an artist, and now, to raise money for Peace One Day’s Global Truce Foundation 2013, ex-Afghanistan soldier and photographer, Bran Symondson has orchestrated an exhibition, AKA Peace at the ICA in London from September 26-30. It will feature an array of AK47s, all hand-painted by a selection of today’s leading art talents, YBAs included. Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, Charming Baker, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Gavin Turk and many others are all involved in Symondson’s project, (with Jake Chapman curating) which marks the protest against global violence and aims to turn the AK47 in to a symbol of peace. Philips de Pury will auction off the AK47s at the end of the exhibition, from October 4-6. The show will also pay homage to World Peace Day on September 21.

Glass caught up with Bran Symondson to find out more about his experiences as a soldier, what led him to instigate this project and asked him whether the AK47, a symbol synonymous with terror, could in fact, become a signifier of peace.

Charming Baker with a gun

Charming Baker with a gun

How did your background as a soldier fighting in Afghanistan prompt you to set up this art exhibition / auction / fundraising project?
It was while I was in Afghanistan mentoring the Afghan National Police (ANP) I started noticing the Chai boy’s role within the group of Police. He would be very effeminate, often wear eye-liner, dye his hands and feet with henna and often have sex with his commander or fellow comrades. This led to my exhibition, The Best View Of Heaven Is From Hell!

They often adorned their AK47s with bright stickers, roses, etc. Then one day I was literally taking cover from incoming fire from an AK47 in a ditch, with a young ANP lad sat next to me with a bloodied rose on the end of it. I laughed and thought when or if I get home, the irony of taking these AK47s and turning them into a blank canvas for art has to be done!

Tell us about some of your experiences in Afghanistan?
Every day was an experience, from dealing with the harsh environment to phases of monotony and boredom, and in an instant, to one of fear. Seeing how beautiful the people and landscape were made you sad for them, as you could see they craved change and peace. Returning to Afghanistan as a civilian photographer was a harsh reminder of how hard it can be out there, but also a testimony to the guys serving over there.

Bran Symondson - AKA Peace

Bran Symondson – AKA Peace

How did you get all the artists involved in the project?
Some of the artists are friends of mine and I always had them in mind, then Jake Chapman got involved through Sean Pertwee, a friend of Jeremy Gilley (the founder of Peace One Day) – he was responsible for getting the big names on board.

Why did you choose the AK47 as the canvas for each artist?
From seeing how they had been decorated in Afghanistan, I also knew it was the most recognisable and iconic weapon in the world, so it deemed fit to use that as a blank canvas to purvey a message of peace.

Guns have often been glamourised in films, art, music videos and many other areas of the Arts. What would you say to those that think you run a risk of glamourising the AK47s when the artists make them in to decorated objects or works of art, ones that will be worth a lot in value after they auction?

Photograph by Bran Symondson (from The Best View Of Heaven Is From Hell)

Photograph by Bran Symondson (from The Best View Of Heaven Is From Hell)

You give a boy a stick, he will turn it into a gun. I do not think there is a danger of glamourising the AK47 as they are already glamourised. What we are doing is showing the world that something of fear and destruction can be turned into one of beauty and intrigue. The irony that the value of them goes up once they have been decommissioned and then turned into works of art is empowering our message.

Are there any other projects planned, or any photography shows of your own in the pipeline?
Yes, I have a few projects on the go and can’t wait to start them fully, as AKA Peace has taken up a lot of time. My exhibition, The Best View Of Heaven Is From Hell! will be going to New York next year, which will be followed by some new shows … so watch this space!

Bran Symondson

Bran Symondson

by Ruthie Holloway

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