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LONDON (Reuters) - The AK-47, arguably the world's deadliest weapon, gets an extreme makeover in a new art project in London where rifles are ground into metal dust, be-decked with dazzling rhinestones or covered in silver-tinted thorns.
"AKA Peace" is the brainchild of former army reservist and Sunday Times photographer Bran Symondson, who, when serving in Afghanistan, noticed how policemen would decorate their guns.
He managed to attract some of the cream of British contemporary art, with Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn and the Chapman brothers contributing works to an exhibition followed by a charity auction to be held next week.
"We noticed they (Afghan police) would adorn their AK-47s with flowers, stickers, and I realized it was the only possession in their life really so it was a bit like a teenager would pimp up their car in the UK," Symondson said.
"A lot of people say 'am I scared of glorifying the AK-47?' But I think the AK-47 is already glorified. I think the strongest message here is to show it can be used for something else visually and mentally," he told Reuters at a preview.
More than 20 artists were involved, some more famous than others, and their works are on display until September 30 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in central London.
They then travel to nearby auction house Phillips de Pury & Company where they will be sold on October 4, and the proceeds will go to the Peace One Day charity which promotes a global day of ceasefire and non-violence every September 21.
Hirst's contribution is instantly recognizable -- he has "spin painted" his gun in garish colors. Jake and Dinos Chapman have their guns held by two toddlers whose noses have been turned into phalluses.
One of the visitors' favorites was Nancy Fouts's "Dont' Touch", an AK-47 covered in silver-sprayed thorns which, from a distance, look soft and furry.
Palestinian artist Laila Shawa said she was no stranger to the seemingly ubiquitous assault rifle.
"I'm very familiar with AK-47s so for me it was not a very strange feeling to carry the gun, but my first question to Bran was 'how many people did this gun kill?'," she told Reuters, standing next to an AK-47 covered in rhinestones and butterflies and with the barrel sprayed gold.
"In the Middle East, with the turmoil that we have, and as a Palestinian in particular, you find yourself at some point in your life having to defend yourself and that's why I know about it," she added.
Some of the artists confessed to feeling uncomfortable working on weapons once used in battle.
"While cleaning the gun in order to start working on it I went into the barrel of the gun and I found congealed blood and that brought the reality home," said Shawa.
Antony Micallef, whose large black, white and grey canvas features two AK-47s protruding from the head of an indefinable creature like horns, explained that he wanted to try and capture "that primal instinct of violence."
"For me the gun was inherently aggressive so I wanted to amplify that. I could never get away from that feeling."
Because organizers only provided one rifle to each artist, he had to purchase a second which cost him 250 pounds ($405).
Charming Baker punctured his AK-47 with holes to reveal the inside as well as the outside of the weapon.
"I don't feel like I have this naive idea that a gun is just a weapon of destruction," he said. "I'm sure there are guns here that have saved people's lives and their families have been pleased about it. That's the way you use any tool, isn't it?"
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato