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The Throne of Languages

The Throne of Languages

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Gonçalo Mabunda

Following its independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique was thrust into a civil war (characterized by some instead as an invasion or a proxy war) influenced by outside national interests called the Renamo/Frelimo conflict that lasted until 1992. Following its resolution, a program called “Tools for Arms” (Transformação de Armas em Enxadas) was implemented in 1997 to disarm the civilian population, encouraging the trade of arms for development tools. Gonçalo Mabunda is one of a number of artists, particularly from the Maputo artist co-operative Associação Núcleo de Arte, that used the resulting decommissioned weapons as source material for their artwork. The arms were collected by the Christian Council of Mozambique and dismantled by a special group of military and police before being given to artists. Using the repurposed weaponry, Mabunda creates sculptures in the form of masks and of thrones, often blending the two. According to the artist, these thrones function as “attributes of power, tribal symbols and traditional pieces of ethnic African art.” The throne becomes a metonymy for power and, in particular, rulers and governments who incite or capitalize on violence to ensure their control. The throne also nods to the interest of Western institutions and collectors in collecting “chief’s thrones,” wood chairs with high backrests sculpted with carved decoration made by a number of cultures in Africa. Mabunda’s sculptures cannot but allude to the violence of the conflict in which he was raised, but in their transformation into artworks, they demonstrate the resilience of Mozambicans and these artists’ ability to create opportunity from adversity.
Gonçalo Mabunda
(Mozambican, b. 1975)
The Throne of Languages
Mixed media
51 1/8 x 42 1/8 x 23 1/4 in.​ overall
Sara Guyer and Scott Straus Contemporary African Art Initiative made possible by the Straus Family Foundation
Accession No.


2021, sold by Jack Bell Gallery (London, England) to the Chazen Museum of Art

  • Chazen Museum of Art. "Insistent Presence: Contemporary African Art from the Chazen Collection." Madison, WI: Regents to the University of Wisconsin System and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2023. pp. 86-87, cat. no. 40

  • Insistent Presence: Contemporary African Art from the Chazen Collection: Chazen Museum of Art, 9/5/2023–12/23/2023

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