Battle for artwork made from AK-47 sees curator get gun licence
It may have been decommissioned and covered in butterflies, but that wasn't enough to see an AK-47 shoot through Customs.
Wellington businessman Chris Parkin went as far as getting a gun licence to get an artwork intended to be a symbol of hope into New Zealand for his collection in the QT Museum Wellington hotel foyer.
To top it off, when he finally laid eyes on it last week, it was broken.
"When the import agent opened it up, the gun was actually on its side with the butterfly wings around it."
The striking piece was created by British photographer Bran Symondson, and art collector Parkin could not resist the stark contrast of the assault rifle covered with majestic tropical butterflies, he spotted at the Unit London gallery in Soho in October 2015.
But that began the arduous process of Parkin ultimately obtaining a firearms licence in order to overcome New Zealand's strict gun laws.
Then he had to get the 'C Endorsement' needed by collectors and dealers for owning restricted weapons.
Lastly, Parkin needed to apply for an import permit, which he received in December.
Ironically the gun-happy United States didn't want the artwork – customs seized it, along with two other art pieces featuring decommissioned AK-47s at the border in August last year when they were bound for an exhibition in Houston, Texas.
Symondson created the piece, titled Beat of a Wing in 2013. He draws much of his inspiration from his time with the British Army in Afghanistan.
He describes Beat of a Wing as a symbol of hope that butterfly wings might inspire changes in the atmosphere which ultimately restore the world to its former innocence.
Parkin bought the artwork "we all wish for" at a London art gallery nearly 18 months ago.
With assurances from the gallery there would be no problems getting it into New Zealand, Parkin promptly bought the piece for £20,000 (NZ$35,000).
"It's such a cool idea: butterflies on an AK-47, it's sort of what we all wish for, really."
Parkin wants to restore the artwork to its former glory, and he is flying Symondson from London to Wellington later this year to make it happen.
The artist will bring with him a new set of butterflies, which are grown on specialist farms and dried.
They need to be rehydrated before being stuck onto artworks.
Parkin hopes insurance will cover damages and is keen to get the artwork on display.
"It actually looks better than I thought it would.
"It's standing upright, at least."
BEAT OF A WING
Symondson says his artwork depicts butterfly wings as change agents, and is inspired by a utopian vision that the world may return to its inherent innocent state.
The clear bullets in the gun's magazine contain substances he says represent damage to the earth, such as oil which has caused pollution, pesticide which has destroyed natural habitats, and sugar which has led to over farming.