Cross for the Unforgiven, 2012
eight, cut and welded AK-47 assault rifles
59 x 59 x 1.5 inches
A Maltese cross of the Crusades, made from eight AK-47s, the international symbol of resistance to the West.
From Marcia Brennan’s article in ::: Harithas, James and Marica Brennan, Paul Farmer, James Metcalf, Eugenie Tsai and Mel Chin. Do Not Ask Me. Houston: Station Museum of Contemporary Art, 2011.
“Drawing on these themes, Mel’s sculpture Cross for the Unforgiven (2002) is composed of eight welded AK-47 assault rifles, instruments of formidable destructive power. With a capacity to fire six hundred rounds of ammunition per minute, the “AK” (or Automatic Kalashnikov) remains one of the most widely used automatic weapons in the world today, just as it stands as a symbol of international resistance to Western power. Yet for viewers who are unaccustomed to the collective display of such armament, confronting this sculpture can feel like a jarring visual and psychic assault, a tear in the field of one’s consciousness accompanied by a shudder of violence that ripples viscerally through the body. After a moment, however, the initial impact of these arresting sensations becomes counterbalanced by the pervasive sense of transcendence and symmetry that the sculpture seems to project. With the individual rifles arranged in a cruciform composition, Cross for the Unforgiven reminds the viewer that the crucifix is a highly ambivalent symbol, at once the sign of a blessing and an instrument of execution. Through its implicit sense of rotational symmetry, the sculpture suggests the possibility of a deadly turning movement, and one can almost imagine a frozen roulette wheel or spiral of death that has been temporarily locked in place. Yet the work also displays a twist on conventional Christian iconography. The AK-47s are arranged in the shape of a Celtic cross, with a halo-like circle spanning the cross’s lateral points of convergence. Yet the sculpture’s pointed arms also evoke a Maltese cross, with its corresponding associations of Christian warriors battling the Muslim Empire during the Crusades. Paradoxically, Cross for the Unforgiven instantiates a collision between these symbolic events and world views, just as it intertwines the brutal violence of ritual sacrifice with the sacred promise of redemption in a field where no absolution can be possible. Creation and destruction thus become welded together in the shared body of the sculpture, where they meet to return one another’s gaze so that one may shed light on the other.”