Ralph Ziman Makes (Gun) Art, Not War - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Ralph Ziman Makes (Gun) Art, Not War

Ralph Ziman Makes (Gun) Art, Not War

By Lorena O'Neil


Ralph Ziman’s colorful yet dark images are about so much more than just beaded machine guns.

By Lorena O'Neil

These AK-47s are ready for their close-ups.

South African artist and filmmaker Ralph Ziman recently debuted his hauntingly beautiful series, entitled ”Ghosts.” The collection of photographs showcasing men holding brightly colored beaded machine guns give viewers the impression that they’re dancing with danger just by looking at them.

”I think that there is a seductiveness and a beauty to the guns,” said Ziman in a recent interview. “In nature, creatures and plants that are deadly, poisonous or lethal are often brightly colored. Like a poisonous snake or spider, to which you are simultaneously attracted and repulsed.”

Ziman, born in Zimbabwe and currently based in Venice Beach, California, hired six Zimbabwean artists to use traditional African beads and wire to make these 200 replica beaded guns, along with ammunition. He then produced a photo shoot in Johannesburg, using the artists, construction workers and a member of the South African Police Services.

”The AK-47 is [an] incredibly iconic weapon that is loved, revered and fetishized in Africa,” Ziman writes on his website. He is putting the international gun trade in his crosshairs: ”In response to the guns sent into African culture and to subvert the destructive cycle of the international arms trade, the mural represents a purely aesthetic, anti-lethal cultural response, a visual export out of Africa.”

The series features photographs, sculptures and installations, in additions to murals painted around Los Angeles. The gun installations are meant to reveal the “onslaught and constant presence” of these weapons, and in the exhibit they are mounted on every wall of the gallery and can be seen spilling out of shipping crates.

Ziman is at work on a documentary component, where he will take a dozen of the beaded AK-47s and travel to different war-torn regions of Africa, creating a second series of photographs using real people in real-life situations. In the past, Ziman has directed videos for artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Michael Jackson and Shania Twain, and he was a writer and director on Hearts and Minds, the first independent South African feature film to be completed after apartheid.

“Ghosts,” Ziman’s first solo show, will be on exhibit from Feb. 8 to March 2 at C.A.V.E. Gallery in Los Angeles. Work sold at the show will help raise money for the cause, with proceeds donated to Human Rights Watch. If you can’t make it to L.A., enjoy a taste of the show in the images collected here.

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