USA: Artworks featuring guns seized at airport

5 September 2016

bran symndson
Customs officials at Houston, Texas’ Bush airport have held three pieces of art made from decommissioned AK-47 assault rifles by British artist Bran Symondson, who was in the city to hold an art show, reported KPRC Houston on 11 August 2016.

The artist’s works take real AK-47s and covers them in a variety of materials, including dollar bills, butterflies, and one with a Texas flag. The rifles, which have been used in war zones, are made non-operational by removing all their working parts and putting a steel rod in the barrel.

“It is ironic that the law permits US citizens to go and buy a new, live weapon which I could, in theory, use to create one of my artworks from, which then could technically be used in its intended form but will not allow my pieces of harmless art into the country,” Symondson told The Independent on 15 August 2016.

Symondson decided he would quickly try to recreate one of his pieces for his exhibition and was able to order an AK-47 online during his stay in Houston, telling KPRC Houston: “I could get a real AK-47 that kills people still, but I couldn’t get one that’s just a piece of artwork into the country?”

According to a 25 August 2016 news piece on the Maddox Gallery website, the London-based gallery that sent Symondson’s work to Houston, no problems were “anticipated” with the shipment and they “filed paperwork to secure the artwork’s approval through US customs”.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told KPRC Houston: “While U.S. Customs and Border Protection is unable to comment on specific shipments, all shipments to the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection. Some items require a license or permit from various government agencies in order to be imported. When CBP encounters such a shipment, it is detained while CBP coordinates with the appropriate agency who will determine the disposition of the shipment.

This is the second time this year that guns as artworks have been singled out in Houston. In May 2016 artist Alton Dulaney’s ‘ARTgun’ piece, featuring a revolver with a bright red flag coming out of the barrel with the word “ART” on it, was displayed  at the University of Houston only after the gun was removed from the piece. The piece was done as a commentary on the passing of a law that allows people to carry licensed firearms on university campuses.

Photo: Maddox Gallery Facebook page


» Maddox Gallery – 25 August 2016:
Bran Symondson transforms symbols of violence into contemporary art

» New York Post – 16 August 2016:
AK-47 artwork banned from entering US

» The Independent – 15 August 2016:
Artwork made from AK-47s banned from entering the US

» KPRC Houston – 11 August 2016:
Thousands of dollars worth of art being held at IAH customs

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» 21 June 2016: USA: Gun removed from art piece in university museum

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