The idiosyncratic work of Shinji Nakaba, a Japanese artist and jeweller, inhabits an exceptionally niche area of design where ‘ghoulish’ and ‘adorable’ collide.
Since 1974 the Tokyo-based artisan has been creating what he refers to as ‘wearable sculptures’ from precious metals and stones as well as discarded materials, such as plastic bottles, steel mesh, aluminium and beer cans. He wishes, he says, to give equal voice to all things.
He has carved delicate brooches that resemble tree branches from pieces of plastic bath stool. He has formed dainty rings out of slivers of bent steel and beautiful, just-picked flowers. He has built hair ornaments from bits of aluminium and old water bottle. ‘I’m dealing all the materials equally no matter how precious or not precious they are,’ the artist explains on his minimalist Etsy page.
One of his most remarkable and prolific collections is a series of miniscule but anatomically sound human and animal skulls carved from the tiniest of oyster pearls, none much bigger than a child’s pinky fingernail; you can grasp great fistfuls of them in the palm of one hand.
Once carved, Nakaba attaches these mesmerizingly eerie little sculptures to rings, necklaces and brooches, carefully but brutally threading thin strips of metal through their earholes and jawbones, enabling people to wear the fragility of humanity on their lapels, on their fingers and around their necks.