Angel of Peace: Homies Unidos and the Art of Handgun Alchemy
"I could be kicking it in my projects right now," says Albert Sanchez, intermittently making eye contact and shoe-gazing on the patio at La Fonderie, a bronze and steel foundry on Glendale Boulevard in Silver Lake. "I live in Ramona Gardens projects in East L.A."
Sam Slovick Erick Moreno, aka Sen, left, with Melinda Isordia, Juan Cenizales, Alex Sanchez, Albert Sanchez and Athena Cuevas
The 17-year-old with shaved head and mustache wears a giant black T-shirt with an iconic cholo tattoo art-inspired graphic depicting a woman's bifurcated face -- one side alive and seductive, the other an exposed skeletal death mask framed by roses formed from hundred-dollar bills. It is presumably a representation of the extremes of fast and hard street life in feminine form, but he might wear it just because it looks cool.
Albert is part of a group of young alchemists from Homies Unidos, a nonprofit gang-violence prevention and intervention organization, who are collaborating with the Violence Prevention Coalition of Los Angeles on the Angel of Peace project to turn metal from guns into art for peace.
"I'm trying to find out about it," says Albert, who is part of the organization's leadership program. "They do a lot of good stuff: help out the community, help out a lot of families. I'm trying to volunteer, help others."
As the group makes its way through La Fonderie, Homies Unidos executive director Alex Sanchez says, "We're learning something right here." Indeed, what the group sees is art-induced chaos, with big graffiti murals looking down on craftsmen laboring over half-rendered sculptures, seemingly oblivious to the cloud of dust their work stirs up and to the storm of sound created by the grinders, buffers and other tools.
Deep in the foundry's steamy entrails, 19-year-old Melinda Isordia's big brown eyes reflect a fiery caldron of molten metal from melted handguns cooking at 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
She's wearing a muted pink and lavender psychedelic-print wifebeater. Her lip is pierced and she sports a shoulder tattoo of a ghoulish Keane-waif anime rendering of woman-child with black eye sockets.
Isordia moves in closer as La Fonderie founder Danny Serfaty pours the white-hot liquid gun metal into molds, transforming firearms into angels to be presented as awards by the Violence Prevention Coalition.