NEW YORK — As icons go, few things communicate global menace more effectively than the stark silhouette of an AK-47. Designed more than six decades ago by Mikhail Kalashnikov, a former Soviet tank commander, the assault rifle boasts the dubious distinction of being the most abundant and reliable killing device in history.
“In much of the world they are everyman’s gun,” the New York Times foreign correspondent C.J. Chivers wrote in “The Gun,” his 2010 social history of the AK-47 and its myriad knockoffs. “The Kalashnikov marks the guerilla, the terrorist, the child soldier, the dictator, and the thug — all of whom have found it to be a ready equalizer against morally or materially superior foes.”
With such a reputation, the AK-47 would seem an unlikely raw material for art. But a slew of recent creative projects — like AKA Peace, a London charity auction of sculptures made from decommissioned rifles, and a Colombian musician’s campaign to transform the guns into guitars — has helped to give objects designed for death a new lease on life.
The latest, and most precious, effort to fashion beauty from the barrel of a gun comes by way of the society jeweler James de Givenchy and his collaborators at Fonderie 47, a company in New York that uses mangled steel from weapons seized in African war zones to create jewels and rarefied objects.