On the second floor of Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM), cathedrals, mosques and synagogues stand out against a dark backdrop. The stately figures are intriguing from afar and beckon a closer look. Upon further examination the audience can see that these sculptures depicting places of worship are constructed from instruments of violence. In the exhibition, “Divine Ammunition,” artist Al Farrow uses guns, ammunition and other weaponry to create beautiful religious structures.
In “Bombed Mosque,” Russian machine gun barrels act as minarets in a 12th century-style Iranian mosque. Hand guns and bullets create an arch over the door. Throughout the piece Farrow uses chemically treated bullets, which turned green in the process. The front of the structure is intact but along the back a gaping hole is in the golden dome. Pieces of debris lie along the base of the mosque as if an explosion just occurred.
“This piece has over 50,000 bullets and shells, and they’re all different calibers so I have to cut all these bullets and shells to the same length. That takes weeks and weeks and weeks,” Farrow said. “This piece addresses the conflict between the two branches of Islam. The Sunnis and Shiites have been at war for a very long time and still are.”
Nearby, a gear surrounded by bullets serves as the base for a 2-foot-tall menorah with nine guns holding white candles.
“I often use gears in the work, and that’s a reference to the military industrial complex,” Farrow said. “The responsibility of all the violence lies with everybody who’s involved including the makers.”
“The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro” is reminiscent of Notre-Dame de Paris. Farrow used Nazi machine gun barrels and jackets, Russian sub-machine guns, French pistols and WWI German Mouser barrels to create the sculpture that also serves as a reliquary, a container often found in cathedrals that contain holy items. There’s a tooth with a gold filling above the door and inside is a spine along the nave. He encourages the audience to peer inside with a flashlight to see it.
“I’m just playing with the idea of relics and the way Catholics use body parts and things that touch saints or Jesus,” Farrow said. “My intent is not to disrespect any religion or anybody’s involvement in religion.”
The artist also created a series of vandalized doors to a mosque, church and synagogue. Each is damaged in different ways from bullet holes to red paint to anti-religious markings, such as “666.” On “Vandalized Mosque Door,” Farrow cut cluster bombs in half to create door knockers.
“They’re antipersonnel weapons. They’re not intended to kill people. They’re intended to maim people because the concept, like land mines, is you take one soldier injured and it takes two guys to move so now you got three people out of combat,” Farrow said. “This is an American weapon. We refuse to stop making them.”
Farrow’s sculptures are intricate works of art that have taken thousands of hours of painstaking work to create. It takes more than a year to construct the welded steel structures. As for why he’s merging violence and religion, Farrow said he wants people to examine why violent elements are used to create religious referenced objects.
“Guns are beautiful. Bullets are beautiful. They’re pretty objects and they are perfectly functional in what they’re designed for,” Farrow said. “I’m taking the beauty and reorganizing it. I’m using beauty to pull people close so that they’ll discover the elements that are violent. Once they see that violent reference it gets the brain going and they start thinking about that.”
Farrow said he’s merely holding up a mirror, albeit a complicated one. The California resident has had showings in Texas canceled twice, and he doesn’t reveal his intent for the guns he buys from dealers.
“Some people really have great love for their guns. I have respect for that too,” Farrow said. “But for me it’s art material and if I tell them I’m cutting it up or using it for art some of these guys wouldn’t sell me stuff.”
While Farrow is focused on asking the audience questions, his artwork certainly makes a statement about Second Amendment culture in America through the ease with which he’s able to purchase his material. He buys ammunition online, travels to gun shows in neighboring Nevada where he can buy as many guns as he wants and purchases large volumes of weaponry without any police diversion. He’s bought as many as 20,000 bullets in a year.
“I’m sure the authorities are aware of me. The NSA knows who I am,” Farrow said. “They know I don’t work with explosives. All they have to do is look at my searches and purchases.”
Farrow was an activist during the Vietnam War and became an artist to create social commentary. He began creating bronze figures of people holding missiles and other weapons.
“They’re quite beautiful but the public did not respond very well. Fact is, seeing naked Black men with weapons scared the hell out of most White folks and unfortunately nobody wanted to buy these things,” Farrow said. “I just keep making the things I want to make no matter what. My impetus was to keep making comments about the culture.”
With “Divine Ammunition” Farrow wants his audience to stop and ponder the relationship between religions and guns. While Farrow isn’t supplying the audience with answers, he’s resolute in his thoughts concerning those who use religion to manipulate their followers.
“I don’t respect the way it’s interpreted and used to get people to fight,” Farrow said. “It has been used throughout history and even prehistory to get people to fight each other. It’s sort of a ploy. They know people will fight if you incorporate the religion into the conflict.”
What: Divine Ammunition art exhibition
When: Show ends May 7, 2017
Where: Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE