Bran is an artist whose work is both bold and thought-provoking. He draws inspiration from his military background, having served with the British Special Forces in Afghanistan. Later, he returned to Afghanistan as a photographer and captured iconic images of the Afghan National Police, which were featured in The Sunday Times newspaper.
Bran commented “The whole premise of my work is to simply disarm the weapon, taking something of mass destruction and transforming it into art. I use paper currency which represents capitalism, and the butterflies are a representation of mother nature taking over man-made tools and they also represent the lost souls taken by the deadly weapon”
Bran is currently working on a powerful documentary which focuses on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.
Poaching for the purpose of international trafficking of illegal wildlife products generally decreased. These declines are largely attributed to the disruption of transportation routes used by wildlife traffickers to move illicit goods within Southern Africa and overseas by air, and in some locations to the effects of local lockdown measures. Poaching for subsistence consumption (bushmeat) generally increased across Southern Africa and worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, incentivised largely by economic hardship and opportunities presented by a reduction in the capacity for anti-poaching enforcement and reduced numbers of tourists, whose presence tends to deter poachers.
Bran discusses how ex-military soldiers like him can help the locals defend their land and surrounding nature.
Bran Symondson is a British sculptor, artist, and photographer known for his works related to the War in Afghanistan. He transforms items of violence, such as AK47 rifles, into art. His work has been featured in multiple exhibitions, including ‘The Best View of Heaven is From Hell’, ‘Hollywood Reloaded’ and ‘AKA Peace’.
Born in 1971, Bran started his photography career in the 1990s but joined the British Army Special Forces Reserves in 2004. During his deployment to Helmand province, he took personal pictures of landscapes, civilians, and Afghan police, whom he was helping to train.
After returning from deployment, he left the British Army and received a commission from the Sunday Times to reshoot images of the Afghan people.
In 2011, he held his first solo exhibition, ‘The Best View of Heaven is from Hell’, at the Idea Generation Gallery in London. The exhibition featured photographs of Afghan police, their cultural idiosyncrasies, and images of the way they decorated their AK47 rifles with roses and stickers. This exhibition later inspired Bran to create his AK47 sculptures.
Bran curated an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 2012 that brought together over 20 artists, including Damien Hirst and Gavin Turk, who each created their interpretation of decommissioned AK47 rifles. The works were auctioned post-exhibition, with the proceeds going to Peace One Day.
Tempus Magazine held a gala at the Dorchester Hotel in London on the 31st of May 2018, in aid of the World Wildlife Foundation, with the help of Bran- they together raised just shy of £100,000.
Bran’s piece was auction for £40,000 which went towards WWF.
Bran has been facing issues while exporting his artwork. In the year 2016, art sculptures which were created by transforming decommissioned AK47 assault rifles were seized by ATF customs en route to an exhibition in Houston. This incident created a stir across major media platforms and news channels, causing a ripple effect in the art world.
In 2017, a buyer from New Zealand purchased a piece of art created by Bran. The artwork was titled ‘Beat of a Wing’ and was bought for NZ$35,000. Unfortunately, during the transit, the crate containing the artwork was mishandled, which caused damage to the butterflies in the artwork. To repair the damage, Bran had to fly to Wellington, New Zealand, to fix the artwork for a private client. Additionally, the same client was informed that he needed to obtain a gun license to own the artwork.
Gayatri Rangachari Shah, reviewing the 2017 second edition of Bahrain’s art fair “Art Bahrain Across Borders” for Vogue Magazine (India), noted Symondson’s “eye-catching works” of decommissioned AK47s decorated with objects like butterflies, causing “quite a buzz” at the Maddox Gallery.
In 2019, Bran collaborated with world-renowned photographer Terry O’Neill in a project called ‘Hollywood Reloaded’. They worked on a photographic venture that included Hollywood actors and actresses. In an interview, Terry O’Neill described his experience with Bran; “He’s taken such time and consideration when creating his art. He has transformed my photographs into something entirely his own. It’s been a thrill for me to work with a young artist such as Bran, to listen to his thoughts and process.”
In 2021, Bran held his first solo exhibition titled ‘The Art to Disarm’ at the House of Fine Art in Mayfair, London. The show was a sell-out with every piece being sold during the week.
In 2023, a special evening was held at The S Bar in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas to honour Bran and his art, as well as to celebrate his philanthropic work. Through his art, Bran has raised over £800,000 for various charities worldwide, with a primary focus on the environment, anti-poaching organizations, and the human rights watch.
2024 has been a good start to the year as Bran’s works are now part of the Royal Armouries Museum, they are currently on display for the RE:LOADED exhibition. Throughout history to the present day, guns have been embellished and intricately decorated; plated in gold and covered with diamonds. As aesthetic objects of art, they have been used to campaign for peace, as tokens of love and desire, and as diplomatic gifts between nations.
This thought-provoking pop-up exhibition asks us to reconsider the symbolism of guns. The exhibition is on now until June 2024.