Fetish VI
AK-47, timber, cleat nails, brass screws, steel pins, nails, bolts
1000 x 320 x 150 mm
2009
Private collection

 

Fetish IV
AK-47, timber, cleat nails
1000 x 320 x 150 mm
2008
Private collection

 


The AK-47 stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947, designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov while wounded in hospital during World War II. Capable of firing up to 600 rounds a minute, this incredibly reliable weapon has been produced in greater numbers than any other 20th Century assault rifle, with an estimated 70 - 100 million units currently being used around the world. The average cost of an AK-47 in many African countries is around $30, and it is in this context that it has had it's most insidious and destructive presence. It is difficult not to find rural peoples of central, northern and southern African regions not in possession of AK-47 rifles. As a fetish object; form of currency; power symbol and instrument of both aggression and self-determination, the AK-47 has become synonymous with the African continent. Without mechanised infantry, tank support or air power, the problem with regional conflicts, civil wars and criminal activities rife throughout Africa, is that these wars, skirmishes and killings continue for decades without resolve. This is the end-user scenario of the small arms trade, an industry that annually sells 8 million guns, adding to the estimated 650 million light arms already in global circulation. It is estimated that 60 per cent of small arms in the world are currently in civilian hands. Behind this deluge of munitions are the world's richest nations. From manufacturers, the guns are sold to governments and exporters, and onto to warlords and rebel armies - ultimately reaching the rural poor, who own these weapons simply because everyone else does.

Nkondi or Nkonde nail fetish, primarily from the Congo, are protective figurative sculptures used by individuals, families, or whole communities to destroy or weaken evil spirits, prevent or cure illnesses, repel bad deeds, solemnize contracts or oath-taking, and decide arguments. A diviner or holy person would activate the statue, using magical substances. Fetishes gained power and were effective, principally because people believed in them. With the process of activating these objects being provoked by having gunpowder exploded in front of them, and by hammering nails into them. They were also used to literally 'hammer out' agreements, with clear implications as to what would happen to people who broke said agreements. The practice is said to have been introduced indirectly by the Portuguese as early as the end of the fifteenth century, through the diffusion of crucifixes in area of what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo. The theme of lower Congo fetishes has been studied by all Congolese art specialists, whereby a figurine was ordered from a particular sculptor, who left its completion to the fetish priest, or Nganga; the latter made the carving active by placing magical materials in one or more receptacles made by the sculptor. Sometimes the Nganga ignored the carver's provisions for these materials and thus altered the morphology of the object. In the case of a Nkonde fetish, a further alteration is effected by the introduction of nails and blades. The sculpture is thus an assemblage of different materials, put together by two different people.

The inherent binary logic of marrying the devastating legacy of the AK-47 to the spiritual, social and ideological role of the traditional Nkonde fetish object intends to comment on the degree to which violence, corruption and civil destruction are now an intrinsically institutional pandemic on the African continent, to the extent that this has diseased even it's spiritual character.

 

 

Nkondi or Nkonde nail fetish, Formerly Zaire, 1967

 

Michael MacGarry, contemporary African art, African art, contemporary art, Africa, sculpture