Goncalo Mabunda is a mixed-media sculptor whose work examines the collective memory of a nation recovering from decades of conflict. He expertly fashions masks, thrones, and figures from the material wreckage of war— dispossessed AK-47s, pistols, and military accessories— to form the armature of his distinctive creations.
Just two years after Mozambique won its independence from Portugal in 1975 following a ten-year insurrection, the new nation embarked on a sixteen-year-long civil war. When that war ended in 1992, several aid organizations launched an initiative to collect and deactivate the weapons that remained scattered throughout the countryside. Mabunda often sources his materials from these collections, deconstructing and fusing their parts into new forms that are influenced by recognizable motifs from traditional African art. As virtuosic as their new forms may be, these works do not hide the violent histories from which they were born: viewers can easily discern the remains of ammunition belts and shell casings that comprise his masks, or the rocket launchers that serve as bases or legs to his majestic thrones. The fusion of weaponry into art object also calls attention to the contemporaneity of imperial conquest with the touristic importation of African artifacts to the Western world.
Mabunda’s works also comment on the present state of decline across postcolonial Africa, positing the relationship between dictatorial prowess—emblematized by traditional seated thrones—and economic disparity. The titles of Mabunda’s works are often lyrical and elusive, and those selected for the 2015 Biennale di Venezia project an idealistic sense of progress and modernity. The Knowledge Throne, The Throne That Never Stops in Time, and The Throne of Non-Slavery (all 2014) contrast a utopian vision for the future with the rusted and impotent materials from which they are made.