Re: Loaded at The Royal Armouries Museum

Maja Lorkowska, Exhibitions Editor
Abstract photo of a blue and platinum, diamond encrusted revolver. The camera lens used has refracted the image so it appears multiple times in the photo, slightly blurred. Taken on a dark purple background.
Royal Armouries Museum

Re: Loaded - Weapons of Mass Seduction at The Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, Leeds Until 30 June 2024 Entrance is free — Visit now

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds presents Re:Loaded, an exciting new display as part of the museum’s redevelopment and expansion project. 

Weapons intertwine with fine art in this powerful exhibition where guns take centre stage but it is not their primary use that is most deeply explored here. On a daily basis the museum is home to thousands of objects from different times and locations, from Japan to Tudor England, including both real weaponry and movie props. This time, the show has a distinctly contemporary twist by posing a challenging question for its audiences – why attempt to beautify and decorate these potentially deadly weapons? 

AK47 covered in butterflies
Image supplied by Leeds Inspired

Re:Loaded includes a number of rare examples of highly ornate firearms. There are gaudy gifts like the golden AK-47 (understood to be gifted by Saddam Hussein and his sons to people they wanted to influence) and a diamond encrusted, gold and platinum encased Smith & Wesson revolver with over 900 jewels. 

For fans of older examples, there is an engraved wheellock rifle from around 1590 as well as one-of-a-kind Colt pistols. Elsewhere in the display, you’ll see guns as meaningful canvases: Bran Symondson-Baxter decorated two decommissioned AK-47 rifles with butterflies and Love Hearts sweets with messages derived from his conversations with child soldiers in Sierra Leone. The artist and special forces veteran metaphorically disarms the weapons by turning them into artworks that communicate the brutality of war and the loss of innocence it brings. 

a yellow neon dove takes up the image, there is a blurred blue light in the background
Royal Armouries

The show is divided into distinct themes: ‘disarm’, ‘status’, ‘desire’ and ‘gifting’. Each theme thoroughly explores the different reasons why guns may be decorated and provide an avenue through which viewers can learn more about the people who made, received or lusted after them. 

There is a certain clash when guns and aesthetics meet, which can involve both incredible skill and questionable motives. They can be used to assert power, campaign for peace or display status without ever pulling the trigger. It is this tension that’s explored in Re:Loaded, making for a thought-provoking and unexpected display.

Re: Loaded - Weapons of Mass Seduction at The Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, Leeds Until 30 June 2024 Entrance is free Visit now

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