Copyright 2004

[ February 21st 2004 ]

Forget "swords to ploughshares". A group of ambitious young Cambodians are turning guns and rocket launchers into works of art. Working almost exclusively in the unusual medium of the AK-47 rifle, 21 art students, who three months ago had only ever sculpted in clay, have already turned out an array of metallic birds and beasts worthy of any modern art gallery.

Funded in part by Oscar-winning actresses Angelina Jolie and Emma Thompson, as well as the European Union, sculptures from the "Peace of Art Project" are set to be displayed eventually at the United Nations in New York and EU headquarters in Brussels. "It's certainly not easy and can even be dangerous. We can't afford to get careless because we are using heavy-duty equipment," says Touun Tourneakea, 26, deftly putting the finishing touches to his "AK-47 bicycle" with an angle-grinder.

Around him in the workshop, an old warehouse on the outskirts of the impoverished southeast Asian nation's capital, an incessant banging and crashing rings out as the rusting old weapons are heated, bashed and ground into shape. For most of the students, all of them from Phnom Penh's Royal University of Fine Arts, fashioning rifles, rocket launchers and heavy machine guns in forges and over anvils is an artistic dream come true. For the project's founders and backers, it is a golden chance to promote a more peaceful, weapons-free society.

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