Shinji Nakaba is a Tokyo-based artist and designer who is most notable for carving tiny, intricate skulls into pearls and other materials. Producing work since 1974, Nakaba enjoys fusing natural forms including anatomy and flowers. The pieces come in all shapes and sizes, but his most celebrated series involves human and animal skulls carved from oyster pearls and attached to rings, necklaces, and brooches.
Nakaba explains on his Etsy page “I just want to bring brand new life to something that has no value, I use not only precious metals and stones, but also everyday things, such as aluminum beer cans, plastic bottle, or even garbage.”
Amazing considering their tiny size, most of of his skulls are inscribed with the word ‘vanitas’ – the Latin word for ‘vanity’ and a type of symbolic work in the 16th and 17th centuries that drew attention to ‘the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits’.
In addition to selling pieces through his online shop, Nakaba’s work has been shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Arts & Design in New York, as well as several galleries and museums around Japan.