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The Power of Protest Art

This striking and powerful sculpture, The Throne of Innocents, is one of the Herbert’s most recent acquisitions. It was made in 2012 by Mozambique artist Gonçalo Mabunda, who was born in 1975.

Mozambique is still recovering from a long and bloody civil war, which ended in 1992. Since 1995 the Christian Council of Mozambique has been collecting weapons left over from the war, many of which have been found by civilians. The weapons are exchanged for agricultural, domestic and constructional tools, as well as sewing machines and bicycles. The armaments are then deactivated and are donated to artists like Mabunda to use as art materials.

Mabunda uses the weapons such as rocket launchers and AK47s, to create thrones, masks and sculptures. He is best known for his thrones, which he says function as attributes of power, tribal symbols and traditional pieces of ethnic African art. His masks draw on the traditions of African tribal art, and they also call to mind the work of modernist artists like Picasso.

Mabunda’s work is both a protest against the violence as well as a reflection on the power of art to change society in a positive way, and the resilience of African people. He has exhibited his work all over the world at high profile galleries like the Hayward in London and the Pompidou in Paris.

The Throne of Innocents sculpture was purchased by the Herbert with a grant from the Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund. The piece is the Herbert’s first acquisition from the African continent and links with Coventry’s themes of peace and reconciliation.

The throne is currently on display in the Herbert’s Sculpture Gallery. From July, the piece will be on loan to the Stadtmuseum in Dresden as part of the Herbert’s touring exhibition, Caught in the Crossfire. For more information about the Herbert's collections on this theme please follow the link on the right.

Written by Martin Roberts, Senior Curator at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum