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Liberia: Turning old bullets into art

Enterprising artist makes art out of munitions from Liberia's civil war.

MONROVIA, Liberia — In the aftermath of Liberiaʼs civil war, Benjamin Somah stumbled upon a way to turn the violence into art.

Walking through the streets of this war-torn capital city, Somah came across bullet casings big and small from the fighting that raged for years. 

The enterprising craftsman collected the spent bullets and began crafting them into figurines. Heʼs dedicated himself to creating art that promotes the message that something good can come from the violence and pain that his country endured for more than 20 years.

“I just wanted to transform some of the materials from the war into something peaceful,” said Somah, 51, who calls himself a bullet designer. “I wanted to create something people havenʼt seen before, especially something from the war.”

The small metal sculptures include maps of Africa and Liberia, a peace boat, a palm tree, a church and one with a woman carrying a baby on her back. He also molds crosses of varying designs and a nativity scene complete with a baby Jesus in the manger.

The large crosses are made from .75-caliber bullet shells, the trees from .60-caliber. The smaller figurines are made from AK-47 shells.

Liberiaʼs civil war began in the late 1980s and continued until a peace treaty was signed in 1995. But that peace agreement quickly fell apart and the war continued until 2003, when Charles Taylor stepped down as president.

That fragile peace held through a transitional period and in 2005 elections were held. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won the presidential race and was sworn into office in 2006.

Taylor is now on trial at The Hague for war crimes and atrocities committed during neighboring Sierra Leoneʼs civil war. He is charged with having financially backed the rebels in Sierra Leone.

The United Nationsʼ peacekeeping presence remains strong in Liberia with 15,000 troops still present in a country with a population of 3.9 million.