The Broader Picture: Shoots and leaves

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The Independent Culture
On first inspection, it looks like children playing on another hot late-afternoon in Africa. Before long, however, these few passersby in the Peace Park of Maputo, Mozambique, are joined by others. The adults observing are more cautious, knowing that parts of the "tree" they are looking at could have been used to kill members of their own families.

For The Tree of Life is a sculpture constructed entirely from weapons - pistols, handguns and grenade launchers were all cut up to form a 7ft, half-tonne installation which is one of the first major exhibits of the Africa 2005 season, the UK's biggest ever celebration of African culture. And while the sculpture has just been unveiled at the British Museum's Great Court - where it will stay for the next five years - it made its unofficial world premiere on a dusty afternoon in Maputo late last year.

It is the most ambitious work yet from Mozambique's Transforming Arms into Tools (TAE) project. In 1995, the country's leading cleric, Bishop Dom Dinis Sengulane, grew increasingly concerned at the amount of guns which remained at large after Mozambique's bitter 16-year civil war between the Frelimo government and Renamo rebels.

TAE collects guns from demobilised soldiers. As incentive, TAE swaps the guns for tools which the recipient uses to make a peaceful living. These include bicycles, sewing machines or zinc to build roofs for shops and homes. The guns are then destroyed to make art.

The British aid agency Christian Aid and the British Museum's Africa curator Chris Spring commissioned four Mozambican artists - Adelino Mate, Hilario Nhatugueja, Fiel dos Santos and Kester - to create this work. "The leaves were a problem," admits Mate. "Every time you put something heavy there, the branches couldn't hold." n J

For information, go to `The Tree of Life' is at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1, tel: 020 7323 8181