Blacksmith turns Liberian civil war arms into art

Blacksmith turns Liberian civil war arms into art

LIBERIA - German blacksmith Manfred Zbrzezny and his apprentices hammer, file and weld in a steamy, dark workshop on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia, surrounded by parts for AK-47s, bazookas and other deadly arms.

In another lifetime, these weapons were the cause of untold misery in a nation scarred by ruinous back-to-back civil wars, but now they are being transformed into symbols of hope for Liberians.

Since 2007, Zbrzezny and his team at Fyrkuna Metalworks have been gathering parts of weapons decommissioned during the disarmament process after the conflict ended ten years ago to turn them into ornate flowerpots, lamps, furniture and sculptures.

"It was strange from the beginning to work with weapons or instruments of destruction and suffering. The first two years I was working on this it remained very strange to me," Zbrzezny said.

"When I had a piece in my hands I would think about what was happening now to the perpetrators who used these weapons, and what was happening to the victims, and I would put the piece down to go drink a cup of coffee because it was a little bit oppressive."

Today, as he holds each weapon part, Zbrzezny is able to focus on its potential for bringing healing to the people of Liberia.

"I do some thinking on how to transform it into something different, how to transform something that was destructive into something constructive, how to transform something negative into something positive," he said.

Deep psychological and physical wounds remain in Liberia after two civil wars which ran from 1989 to 2003, leaving a quarter of a million people dead.

Numerous rebel factions raped, maimed and killed, some making use of drugged-up child soldiers, and deep ethnic rivalries and bitterness remain across the west African nation of four million people.

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