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Bradley, Alfie - VM - Rachel Wilkerson

Alfie Bradley: Knife Angel

Grieving for Knife Victims

by Rachel Wilkerson

Cities across the UK have welcomed the Knife Angel, a statue of a fierce angel towering twenty-seven feet high, comprised entirely of knives. Sculptor Alfie Bradley welded the statue from 100,000 knives surrendered and collected in knife amnesties around the country – a hundred thousand invisible moments of surrender. Bradley dulled each rusted blade before incorporating it into the body of the sculpture. “The hardest part of creating the Knife Angel was meeting and hand engraving personal messages on each feather on the back of the angel’s wings from affected people and families, and seeing them become overwhelmed with emotion once seeing the angel,” Bradley said in an interview with My Modern Met.

The knives form terrifying wings and body; the only elements of the statue not formed from knives are an anguished face, and a pair of outstretched palms, held upward in a gesture of surrender. The choice of an angel is a bold one, it leaves no room to dodge the religious undertones. If the Knife Angel ever held a fiery sword, he too seems to have abandoned it here, coming instead with the heart-restarting salutation of “Fear Not.” The statue stands as an invitation to surrender, and as a bulwark against fear pervasive in back alleyways in cities plagued by knife crime.

The statue taps wells of grief in communities not only for the lost lives of the victims but also for the moral wounds of the perpetrators. On its tour, the Knife Angel has elicited an organic vigil from local communities – with candles, cards, and photos laid at its feet. Viewers come expecting to marvel at an ironwork construction and find themselves swept up in an active communal remembrance.

As the sculpture entered Coventry after a spate of violent crimes, the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth, said the Knife Angel was "a stark reminder of a form of violent crime infecting our city and threatening lives with great danger, especially our young people."

The angel guarded Coventry Cathedral during Easter Vigil, a few feet away from the litany of reconciliation, just outside the ruins of the walls bombed during the Second World War. The wall behind the altar of the ruined building is inscribed with Christ’s words from the cross “Father, Forgive.” To see the angel in that setting is to grieve for the collective wounds we humans deal each other.

Indeed, cities across the UK have issued bids to bring the sculpture to their city, as if at the heart of cities in the UK there is a clamoring for a cathartic release of grief, a collective turn from violence, some unexpected new way forward. By juxtaposing 100,000 rusted knives with the majesty of angels, the statue becomes a harbinger of a new way forward, ushering in reconciliation on the heels of surrender.

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Alfey Bradley divides his time between the British Ironworks Centre and a workshop in central France, where his family has lived for the last 20 years. Trained as a stone sculptor, Bradley most often works in iron and steel. His four-meter-high gorilla formed from welded spoons resides on the banks of the Thames, and a similarly impressive rhino head can be found in the House of Commons. His latest work, the Knife Angel is currently on a tour of the UK that commenced at Liverpool Cathedral in 2018. https://www.alfiebradley.com 

Rachel Wilkerson researches causation in probabilistic graphical models at the University of Warwick, motivated by a desire to translate the complexities of civic issues into mathematical language. http://www.rlwilkerson.com 

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 21, 2019