Bran Symondson: The Art to Disarm

Bran Symondson: The Art to Disarm
25 November 2021- 9 December 2021
Private View 25 November 6-9pm
House of Fine Art
11 Bruton Street

House of Fine Art proudly presents The Art to Disarm, a solo exhibition by British artist and documentary photographer Bran Symondson. This will be Bran’s first solo show in the UK since 2011 and the only time he has brought together his diverse body of work, offering a unique chance to consider his practice in its entirety. 

The exhibition takes a timely look back on his 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.

Bran Symondson

I see the AK-47 as a blank canvas. I know the gun well, I’ve shot it, I’ve been shot at by it, I can strip it down, I can fire it but the only moment I get the realisation that it’s a weapon is when it arrives at the studio still covered in gun grease. Once I clean it and begin working on it, the fact that it’s a weapon disappears, and it becomes about beauty.

Bran Symondson

The recent fall of Afghanistan inspired him to revisit his archive, create new works and present this reflexive and poignant exhibition. “With the recent news, many ex-army friends were reaching out to me which inspired me to look through my hard drive. I was so shocked by how rich and diverse the images were, there were so many small and forgotten moments.” Bran Symondson

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. 

RPG and Tea – 2010, Bran Symondson

Bran Symondson is a British photographer and artist. In 2008 he was he was deployed to Afghanistan, Helmand Province as part of the British Army Special Forces Reserves. Images he took during the tour culminated in his first show The Best View of Heaven is from Hell (2011). His photographs of young Afghanistan boys holding decorated AK-47s inspired him to create his sculptural works.

During his last tour of duty, training the Afghan National Police (ANP), he became fascinated with the force’s distinctive ethos, latterly returning as a civilian photographer embedded with them commissioned by The Sunday Times. After being awarded the 2011 Amnesty International Media Award for his photograph Lost Boys, Symondson began working on the sell-out show AKA Peace (2012). For this exhibition, decommissioned AK-47’s were decorated by artists such as Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, Antony Gormley, and The Chapman Brothers. The critically acclaimed show raised more than £430,000 in one night.

His most recent exhibition was a collaboration with photographer Terry O’Neill CBE. The body of works entitled Hollywood Re-Loaded (2019) saw Bran shoot photographs of famous actors and actresses with the same weapon portrayed in the film they respectively starred in. This year, Bran launched debut digital artwork Krypto Kandy for 20.04 ETH, which uses a deactivated AK-47 captured from conflict in Afghanistan and reflects on new crypto currencies in our digital world.

Bran is also known for his philanthropic work towards increasing awareness of worldwide issues through his photographs and raising money for charities through the donation of his AK47s. To date, he has raised more than £580,000 through his contributions.

©2021 Bran Symondson