From Weapons of Mass Destruction to Instruments of Creation: 1,527 Trees Planted With Shovels Made From 1,527 Guns
Guns are dangerous weapons, no doubt. Even when they are used by the “good guys,” once a gun is fired at a target, it either wounds or kills. It’s hard to picture life coming from the barrel of a gun, but this artist was able to capture that picture.
Mexican artist Pedro Reyes is a man who constantly sets out to create artworks that speak to a cause. He employs the use of thought-provoking sculptures or artwork to positively affect situations taking place in society at the moment, irrespective of whether they are social, environmental, political, or educational.
Perhaps his most inspiring works are the ones where he’s able to fashion instruments that represent all things good from materials that imply the opposite.
Described by Creative Time as “he often pushes the boundaries of how an artist appropriates material for artistic production,” Reyes truly shines a beacon of hope through his art. 
Palas por Pistolas
Palas por Pistolas, which translates to Shovels for Guns, is one of Reyes’ best work. While most people can’t see beyond the destructiveness of guns, Reyes has a different perspective and would rather focus on the positive side of a failed culture than write it off as a complete failure.
With that mindset, he decided to create something out of the terror that had gripped his city of Culiacan, Mexico. Reyes asked residents of the city to hand over their guns in exchange for a coupon to purchase household appliances. At the end of the exercise, Reyes had collected a total of 1,527 guns for the project. The guns were melted down and used to make 1,527 shovelheads.
A great concept
Reyes had an incredible idea of how best to use the guns and the shovels fashioned from them. He distributed the shovels to art institutions and public schools all over the city where the people used them to plant a minimum of 1,527 trees.
On how he came up with that concept, he said, “If something is dying, becoming rotten and smelling, I think there is a chance to make a compost in which this vast catalog of solutions can be mixed in an entirely new way.”
“My work aims to show how an agent of death can become an agent of life,” he added. 
Forty percent of the 1,527 guns collected for the projects were high power automatic weapons, military-grade. They were transported to a military zone where they were laid out and publicly crushed by a steamroller. The crushed bits were then taken to a foundry, a factory that produces metal castings. They were melted and used to create shovelheads.
Handles were then added, and each handle tells the story of how they came into existence. 
The impact of the project
The project was proposed by the Botanical Gardens of Culiacan to stem gun violence in the city. The original plan was to commission artists, and have them hold interventions in the city. However, Reyes decided to go for something bigger and proposed Palas por Pistolas.
So far, the shovels have been distributed to over 20 cities all over the world. Some have been featured in exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute, and Denver, Colorado, while others made it to Maison Rouge in Paris. 
The project was a rousing success and the Federal government even reached out to Reyes to work on a new project: Disarm.
For this project, Reyes was provided with 6,700 guns, which were seized by the army and police in Ciudad, Juarez. The city of about 1.3 million people had a very big gun problem to the extent that 10 people were shot every day during the worst of it.
The seized weapons are typically buried or destroyed, but this time Reyes was asked to make a sculpture out of them. Reyes cut down the barrels of the guns to make musical instruments that sound like marimbas, while other parts were turned into cymbals.
He chose musical instruments because “music is the exact opposite of weapons.”
Regardless of the incredible meaning behind using guns in his projects, there is a danger to using them and Reyes explained in an interview, “The danger in making art about guns is that you can easily be seduced by the object so the result can end up glorifying rather than critiquing it… For my own agenda, I need the message to be clear so that my works have currency for a general audience.” 
Gun violence in Culiacan, Mexico
Culiacan is the city with the highest rate of gun deaths in Mexico. The city is rife with dangerous drug cartels, the Sinaloa cartel being one of them. Just a few months ago, the city was held under siege by the cartel who wanted the son of their leader, El Chapo, released.
While the violence is not new to the citizens of Culiacan, this battle, in particular, has them shaken up. The scene has been described as something akin to a war-zone and one can only imagine how much pain guns have brought to the people. 
This news might appear grim and hopeless, but it also goes to show just how important Reyes’ work is. Palas por Pistolas is a reminder that guns don’t have to be used destructively, Disarm also carries an incredibly powerful message, and hopefully, these projects will play a part in reducing the violent use of guns in Mexico, and the rest of the world.
- “ABOUT PEDRO REYES.” Creative Time. Editor. Accessed Janaury 13, 2020.
- “Incredible Artist Melts 1,527 Guns to Make Shovels for Planting Trees.” One Green Planet. Aisling Maria Cronin. Accessed January 13, 2020.
- “This Mexican Artist Melted 1,527 Guns Down and Turned Them Into Shovels to Plant Trees.” Remezcla. Yara Simón. Accessed January 13, 2020.
- “Mexican Artist Turns 1,527 Guns Into Shovels To Plant Trees.” Intelligent Living. Luana Steffen. November 11, 2019.
- “Artist Transforms Guns To Make Music — Literally.” NPR. Greg Allen. January 25, 2014.
- “El Chapo: Mexican police free drugs lord’s son as Culiacan battle erupts.” BBC. Editor. October 18, 2019.