In honor of Gandhi’s birthday and International Day of Nonviolence, check out these incredible works of art promoting peace around the world.
On October 2, the birthday of nonviolence philosophy activist Mahatma Gandhi, the United Nations commemorates International Day of Nonviolence. It is meant to reaffirm the universal desire for a nonviolent existence and a culture of peace, tolerance and understanding. The nonviolence philosophy started by Gandhi is continuously present in the art world, as artists of various backgrounds and disciplines create works promoting pacifism and peace.
For International Day of Nonviolence, here’s a look at seven artists who use the weapons of war and conflict to create impactful art, thus transforming their associated narrative.
1. Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd’s ‘Nonviolence’ Sculpture
In 1980, singer, songwriter and peace activist John Lennon was shot and killed outside his New York City home. To honor Lennon and his vision of a peaceful world, his wife Yoko Ono asked their friend, Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, to create an artistic tribute. Reuterswärd made Nonviolence, also known as the Knotted Gun, a bronze sculpture of a Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver with its barrel knotted, making it inoperative. The sculpture was initially placed at the Strawberry Fields memorial in New York City’s Central Park, across from Lennon and Ono’s home. In 1988 it was donated to the United Nations, where it may be viewed today outside its headquarters in New York.
The significance of Reuterswärd’s Nonviolence sculpture may be seen around the world, as 30 copies currently exist, including at the Peace Park in Beijing, China, the Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as 10 copies in Sweden. It has essentially become a global symbol of peace and nonviolence.
2. Akram Abo Alfoz and ‘Painting on Death’
In response to the ongoing civil war in Syria, Painting on Death’s Akram Abo Alfoz (also Akram Abu Al-Fawz, or in his community, Mohammad Douma), a father of three, takes the bombs and bullets off the streets of Douma, his hometown, disarms them and then sculpts and embosses what remains with patterns and designs inspired by his Levantine cultural heritage. He told Middle East Eye that with his paintings he “wanted to make a piece of work that serves as testimony for this era so that I never forget,” while sending a message of hope, steadfastness and struggle.
Much of his work may appear to be strictly ornamental, but in fact some pieces are used by children as toys after they are decorated. Through his work, Abo Alfoz said he is transforming weapons of destruction into life.
3. Guns, Thumbs & Ammo
The blog Thumbs & Ammo takes a comical approach to nonviolence by welcoming submissions from computer-savvy artists, professional or not, of images from well-known films with their characters sans weapons. In their place: a thumbs-up. Thumbs & Ammo believes “real tough guys don’t need guns; they just need a positive, can-do attitude.” Some of the most iconic characters are featured without their guns, such as RoboCop, Han Solo and Chewbacca, the Terminator, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, James Bond, and even Ripley.
The images are meant to be funny, but they also send an important antiviolence message to the media. Between bouts of giggles, you can’t help but wonder how significant a message it would have been for Scarface’s Tony Montana to put down his machine gun and give a thumbs-up to his enemies, initiating a peaceful resolution to mob violence instead of a bloodbath.
4. Manfred Zbrzezny in Post–Civil War Liberia
Since 2007, German-born Manfred Zbrzezny has been converting weapon scrap from the Liberian civil war’s disarmament process into art at Fyrkuna Metal Works. Using weapons such as RPG rocket launchers, AK-47 barrels and M16 and G3 rifles, Zbrzezny creates sculptures of butterflies, horses, fish, furniture and a stunning cotton tree, featuring branches with messages from a women’s group in Totota that express their desires, such as reconciliation, peace, justice and empowerment.
With his emotional work, Zbrzezny is forging beauty from tragedy. He told Crixeo that at its core, his work has a nonviolence theme; he’s transforming “poison into medicine.” “Some people express themselves by singing; others express themselves by shooting. It is the duty of those that express themselves by singing to stop the others from shooting,” Zbrzezny added.
5. Peace Angels Project
By melting down the metal of nuclear missiles, handguns, machine guns and other reclaimed weaponry, the Peace Angels Project creates angel monuments that are exhibited around the world. The project was started in 1992 by peace activist and artist Lin Evola. “Art is the most powerful thing that we have on earth because it engages the consciousness of a person. It shifts who we are as people. That’s the power of real art,” Evola told The Takeaway.
The peace angel monuments act to serve communities as symbols of peace, and Evola’s Renaissance Peace Angel found its home at New York City’s National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Other peace angels may be found in Los Angeles, Jerusalem and Johannesburg. Evola believes humanity is in charge of obtaining peace, and the peace angels exist to remind us of that.
6. Scott Hove’s Cake Weapons
You can’t eat a Scott Hove cake sculpture, but you can marvel at how he takes firearms, assault rifles, plus other weapons and makes them delicious-looking in order to “subvert their intended purpose on multiple levels.” He told Crixeo that “making [sculptures] pink and soft-looking ruins the masculine fantasy of the cold, dark fierceness an assault weapon can have.”
It’s his way of “dealing with the violent fantasies of [men]” that he sees present in our world. Hove has a love/hate relationship with guns, finding a “grim beauty” in their violent function. But he’s not taking a moral stand with any individual piece, because “forcing an agenda,” he said, “can ruin the viewer’s experience.”
Scott Hove’s favorite cake weapon was inspired by the gold encrusted assault weapons commissioned by Mexican drug cartel bosses. It has a machete attached like a bayonet, four throwing knives and two throwing stars tied to it using an obsessive binding and knotting technique, with a horse hair tail and Swarovski crystals.
7. Palestinian Artists’ Message of Nonviolence
In 2014, airstrikes caused mass destruction during the Israel-Gaza conflict at the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory. Palestinian artists Tawfik Gebreel, Bushra Shanan and Belal Khaled responded by altering the smoke-filled photographs of bombing aftermaths with images that display hope, the desire for peace, as well as resistance to violence.
Gebreel, an architect, told Inhabit he chose art to respond to the destruction because it is the “universal humanitarian language understood by all peoples of the world.” The images the three artists have created are impactful. Whether featuring a peace sign, a clenched fist, a child playing with their parent, an angel or the forlorn face of a man, each tells a story with a unifying nonviolence theme.
All the aforementioned artists have made strong statements against violence through their work. On International Day of Nonviolence, let’s show our appreciation to them and others who respond to the awfulness of war with hopeful, peace-filled messages. And consider Gandhi’s point of view: “Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”