Ghosts: Ralph Ziman’s Art confronts the ugly truth of the international arms trade

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 10.45.12 PMThe impact of arms trade and epidemic of gun death, around the world, is poignantly visible in the millions of people who have suffered from the violence of war and other gun consequences. It is estimated that yearly, over 1.5 trillion dollars are spent on military expenditures worldwide, with the U.S as the largest exporter of conventional weapons. On the African continent, the growing proliferation of light weapons and illicit arms trafficking poses a major threat, with sales said to be generated by developing countries.

Confronting and dealing with the dominant international arms trade that feeds the unabating civil wars in Africa, creating an arms and socioeconomic complex on the continent, Ralph Ziman, a South African artist, photographer, filmmaker and advocate, best known for his Venice Murals and directed works of music video with the likes of Toni Braxton, Rod Stewart and Michael Jackson, collaborates with Zimbabwean street vendors on a series of handmade replica AK-47s, titled Ghosts. The multimedia project features photographs, sculptures and installations. The AK-47s, as the central focus, are remarkably adorned in traditional shona-style beading wrapped with wires and incorporated in installations and photographs of men posing with it. Visually beautiful yet its ugly truth is made profoundly visible. Ziman’s work unearths Paul Robeson’s words, “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth.”

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The series explained best by the artist:

“Part of an extensive series of works, this mural deals with the international arms trade and Africa: a trade that for the most part only goes in one direction. Into Africa. I had six Zimbabwean artists use traditional African beads and wire to manufacture several hundred replica bead/guns like AK-47s, as well as several replica bead/general purpose machine guns (GPMGs), along with the ammunition. 
In response to the guns sent into that culture, the mural represents an aesthetic, anti-lethal cultural response, a visual export out of Africa. And the bead/guns themselves, manufactured in Africa, are currently being shipped to the USA and Europe. “

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Ziman further describes the project:

“This bead/arms project provided six months full time work for half a dozen craftsman who got well deserved break from making wire animals for tourists. The completed bead/guns were the subject of a photo-shoot in crime ridden downtown Johannesburg. The subjects were the artists who made the guns, several construction workers who happened to witness the shoot, and a member of the South African Police Services who just wanted his picture taken.”

Ghosts is currently on display at C.A.V.E Gallery in Los Angeles, it will be up until March 2.

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