Written by Steve McAnon, CNN

Olivier Voinier, director of the Museum of Ethnography in Krakow, has now done what he'd originally set out to do -- mount a war-era instrument, which has been dubbed the "lance".

"I met all kinds of people about this. And the most common reaction was 'when did you finish painting the sword?'" says Voinier in an email interview with CNN.

The exhibition is subtitled "Pan African Solitude: Art Under Fire" and explores the black arts of former colonial territories that are today part of French-speaking West Africa, where nations such as Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde haven't yet been colonized by Europe.

"Everything in those countries was owned or had been stolen by Europeans," says Voinier. "People didn't know how to defend themselves and so they started to make weapons."

Art weapons: The little metal plates and amulets that darken thousands of graves

Artifacts in the exhibition span the genre of spiritual or political -- including a metal sword with silver spikes in ancient Senegal, and amulets carved with animal details found in a holy cemetery in Zanzibar.

The sculpted knuckles of a classic West African dagger, one of many in the show, were carved by "strong women who protected their men from attacks," Voinier says. "The workers were always afraid of severe punishment, so they had to hide their weapons."

By contrast, today's weaponry generally involves materials such as nylon or steel, readily available to East African trade and today's military.

"The weapons have become a part of our material culture, which is not necessarily the case before," says Voinier.

The Modern African's Sword, Krakow. Credit: Olivier Voinier/Museum of Ethnography

Most of the objects on display in the collection are from the past three decades, although there are a few items from even earlier. Voinier says that he hopes to continue with the exhibition into the future.

"We want to offer an opportunity to other people to understand the culture, the story and the meaning of this weapon, which is like a message to the outside world," he says.

"To be able to see other countries in the same context, the message of the weapon and the art of the sword which is the result of the history of this country."

The exhibition is part of the Krakow / Linz / Eichwald event, organized by the Eichwald Archive of Ethnography in collaboration with the Museum of Ethnography and the European History Museum of Wroclaw.