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Human Bones in Art

I find it strange that not many people are prepared to use real human skulls in art today, although their visual representations appear absolutely everywhere.

I recently acquired an old skull which had been sitting in the bottom of a cupboard for years and was in very poor condition. I decided to use it in a piece of art. I didn’t take this step lightly and I knew I would be throwing myself open to criticism by people who believe I am being dis-respectful.

In my opinion all life is equally sacred. I can’t see any spiritual distinction between the bone of a human and the bone of a sheep or a rat. I admit that if a bone had a personal connection through birth or friendship (e.g. it was my father’s skull) I would definitely feel a greater level of attachment but not in any spiritual sense – more perhaps as an emotional attachment response.

The skull I obtained is a mystery. I got it from the son of an old medical man so I presume it came out of India.

Much of my work is connected with the idea that humans are an integral part of the natural world and have no claim for any separate status. It is our current ‘disconnectedness’ from nature that is at the heart of so many of our current problems as a species. By incorporating the skull into a matrix of bones (and other material) from other animals I am trying to break down the invisible barrier between being an ‘animal’ and being ‘human’. We are all animals.

To make ‘Sacred’ I inserted the skull into my own interpretation of a reliquary box or a cista mystica (a sacred casket) made from recycled timber (with the help of Global Wood Rework). I designed the piece so that the skull’s face resembles the corolla of a large flower. The ‘petals’ are made from dried cup sponges(see above) This is a particularly lovely species of sponge which dries out like thick cardboard. I obtained these rare specimens from a beach at Ngawi in the Wairarapa. The other bones and teeth come from cows, sheep, wild pig and ostriches sourced from farms in the lower South Island.

If I hadn’t made this piece both the human skull and the other material would probably been lost to our view entirely. I hope that by preserving these artefacts and bringing them a new life inside a home or a gallery or the internet I am extending them both honour and respect. That is certainly my intent.

You can read an extended article about the use of human skulls in art here.

‘Sacred’ (30 x 30cm) Human facial bones with cup sponges and bones from cow, sheep, and ostrich in a custom box made from recycled wood. Bruce Mahalski – 2015

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