The exhibition takes a timely look back on Bran Symondson's personal experiences of Afghanistan both as a member of the British Army Special Forces in 2008 and as a photographer embedded with the Afghan National Police in 2010. It includes personal memorabilia from Symondson’s time in the army and photographs he shot during the period, alongside pieces demonstrating the evolution of his practice as a sculptor. The recent fall of Afghanistan inspired him to revisit his archive, create new works and present this reflexive and poignant exhibition.
Using ethically sourced butterflies and emotive site-specific objects that hark back to his experiences of place and conflict, Symondson creates stunning pieces with decommissioned AK-47s as the canvas. Initially known for his reportage photography that appeared in The Sunday Times and GQ, his creative output has developed far beyond this with the AK-47 sculptures being collected globally by the likes of highly acclaimed artist Jake Chapman, Elton John and the Prince of Bahrain. Symondson’s unique artworks derive from a simple premise: taking something of fear and loathing and turning it into something of beauty and intrigue.
Each AK-47 has a narrative which is told through the meticulous craftsmanship of adorning the weapon with various objects and enhancing it with bespoke handmade bullets containing commodities related to its individual story. The guns he works with are largely sourced from war zones, many have seen battle and are marked with tell-tale scares that attest to their former lives.
Also on display will be Symondson’s new motion driven NFT works, which depict AK-47s with ‘ecosystems’ growing on them symbolising mother nature eclipsing man's mistakes. Another new direction is his recent ‘DIE 4 U’ sculptures which harness the ‘Love Heart’ sweet as a motif, encased within many bullets to question the flippancy with which actual violence may be considered.
His work clearly explores themes of conflict and violence in a sensitive and thought-provoking manner drawn from personal experience, beyond this there are also subtle themes embedded throughout the work. He considers the environmental impact of the arms trade through use of native materials from certain geographical locations as well as utilising butterflies to celebrate the beauty and fragility of the natural world.
He is a studious collector, gathering pieces of the Berlin Wall, African sand, precious stones, and opium seeds among many other substances during his travels. These are included in the work, hidden delicately in the gun’s bullet casings. It is knowledge of these details, gained through spending time with the physical works, that bring his pieces to life.
Showing a unique personal perspective on a timely topic, Symondson’s poignant exhibition presents an original approach to conflict, war and violence while inviting the viewer to look beyond the media and their preconceptions. Symondson invites us to try and understand his lived experience, the complexity of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the impacts of violence more widely on humanity and the natural environment.