Tree of life

July 14, 2021 · Print This Article

During lockdown most of us dreamed about the things we planned to do as the various restrictions lifted. Top of many people’s lists was seeing friends and family they have been unable to be with – at least in person – and have dearly missed. I have to travel to see many of my friends and my family, and I prefer to do that by train – so now I am looking forward to taking trains once again. I may still need to be masked, but train travel, for me, is part of the pleasure of the visit.

Fairly high on my ‘to do after lockdown’ list is to travel to London – by train, of course – and then to the British Museum. I have read about an exhibition there that I want to see. It can be found in Room 25 of the museum and is a sculpture called Tree of Life. The title of the sculpture might be a familiar term; a description of such a tree can be found at the very end of the Bible where the leaves of the tree are said to be ‘for the healing of the nations’.1

The tree in the British Museum is obviously not this tree but, in many ways, it is a reflection of it. The museum and Christian Aid together commissioned the sculpture.


Built in 2005, by four artists from Mozambique, from 600,000 surrendered weapons, it represented part of the healing that this country needed after a bitter civil war lasting 15 years. It was a war that saw over a million people killed, or starved to death. Numbers – statistics – can stop having meaning because we are bombarded with them as various groups attempt to persuade us of their opinion or try to sell us something.

To put a million pointless deaths into some sort of perspective, it exceeds the number of deaths from COVID in the UK, or in the US, and is also more than the two totals put together. Bishop Sengulane of Mozambique, who inspired the project asked the following questions:

“Why should this world have hungry people? Why should this world have a shortage of medicines? And yet the amount of money which can be made available, almost instantly, for armament purposes is just amazing, and I would say shocking”.

The Tree of Life is not the only contribution of art that seeks to express a future where people turn their weapons of war into useful and peaceful tools (as described by an Old Testament prophet2). In the UN Sculpture Garden in New York there is a huge and hopeful sculpture, standing nine feet tall, entitled Let Us Beat Swords into Ploughshares. The musical Les Misérables ends with an Epilogue which contains the lines:

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
We will walk behind the ploughshare;
We will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Art, in its many forms, has a huge contribution to make to our quest for, and need for, peace. Without art, the message might become theoretical. Art demands and evokes an emotional response and I anticipate that response when I eventually get to Room 25 in the British Museum, standing in front of a creation that is so much more than the rusting pile of metal it could have been.

Maggie Mitchell

Maggie is an Editor at Because.

1The Bible, Revelation 22:2
2The Bible, Isaiah 2:3–4
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