Mozambican artists' collective aims to rejuvenate the local art scene

November 2004 -

Nowadays, Núcleo de Arte's old villa serves as a meeting-place for painters and sculptors. The artists' collective has been responsible for an artistic revival in Mozambique since the end of the war

In the open-air workshop, Mucavele is carving out a landscape from the slab in his lap. In the shed-like outbuilding behind him, an artist works away, fashioning a huge brown-green figure that reaches almost to the ceiling. Works of art that at first glance appear to be rusty steel animals, pieces of furniture and human figures have gathered for a drink at the Núcleo de Arte bar.

But look again and you will see that these amusing sculptures are actually made from some rather macabre materials: an old AK 47 has been bent into an ostrich shape, the backbone of a human figure is actually the barrel from a machine gun, and in 'The Saxophonist' by Gonçalo Armando Mabundam, you can see the contours of a bazooka, with the horn itself being made from a cylindrical handgun.

The artists' collective has found a new artistic and symbolic use for the deadly weapons handed in after the end of the 16-year long war. However, for most of the more than forty artists, the war is little more than a childhood memory. They are part of the new generation. In 1993, they drew on their new inspiration to renovate the old villa and have now helped bring about an artistic revival in Mozambique.

Inside, they have organised a gallery that puts on a changing programme of temporary exhibitions by Núcleo's artists. The weapon sculptures made the artists famous and ended their (relative) international isolation. Núcleo's new project aims to realise an old objective, namely that of reaching out to young artists in the provinces who have almost no artistic facilities to hand.

No tangible steps have yet been taken towards the realisation of these dreams, although the artists do sometimes travel to the north of the country to host workshops. 'We need new ideas', says João Tinga. 'At the moment, there is just one art academy for the whole of Mozambique and standards are low. All the same, there is much talent around. And now that the war has ended, people can start thinking about art a bit. They may be unable to buy anything yet but they do appreciate it.'