Why do so many artists like using the image of a skull in their works?

G13 Gallery director Kenny Teng made that whimsical observation as he was flipping through the works of many artists associated with this Petaling Jaya gallery.

“Skulls are always present in some artist’s artworks. At least once in their lifetime, they always have one or two works relating to skulls. Maybe they represent an existential conversation or are symbols of death. And for younger artists, maybe skulls represent something more street cool,” says Teng with a laugh.

Obviously, not all the artists are heavy metal fans or have a medical background. Nothing as deeply macabre like Bayu Utomo Radjikin’s  Ada Apa Dengan Tengkorak (What’s With The Skull?) series back in 2015.

Some shows have different ways to get inside your head. In #Skull, which – you guessed it – features 28 works of bone-headed art, G13 Gallery has gathered artists who have skull images in their works.

The #Skull show’s line-up includes Aiman Zamri, Al-Khuzairie Ali, Arikwibowo Amril, Eddie Hara, Edroger Rosili, Faizal Suhif, Gan Tee Sheng, Hisyamuddin Abdullah, Khairudin Zainudin, Ruzzeki Harris, Shafiq Nordin, Syahbandi Samat, Shahrul Jamili and Winner Jumalon.

Syahbandi Samat’s Underneath One S(k)IN (set and ballpoint on canvas, 2019) Photo: G13 Gallery

It is a loosely curated show, representing how the skull theme is viewed by these artists, across a range of styles.

Yes, some works are sombre and dark, but others are bright and colourful. From attention-grabbing Pop Art depictions to heavy weather wall pieces right to quirky sculptures made ceramics and copper coins, the #Skull exhibit is certainly a varied one.

For artist Rosili, it was a timely coincidence to be involved in this exhibition. About two years ago, he had created some skulls out of paper pulp as a study of anatomy – now he has the chance to use and exhibit them.

Edroger Rosili’s Death Of The Author (hand sculpted paper clay skull replica, paint brushes, copper and steel chain, 2019).
Photo: G13 Gallery

His works, Death Of The Author and Birth Of The Reader, are a commentary on the life of an artist and feature skull models decorated with paintbrushes.

In Death Of The Author, the brushes almost poke into the skull in an image resembling a medieval medical device called a “craniometer”. It’s a compelling if slightly unnerving sight.

“To me, looking at art is like looking into a mirror. You are actually looking at yourself, seeing what you know, what you have been through before. No matter the name of the art, what the artist tells you, you create your view based of what you know,” says Edroger, 34.

Arikwobowo Amril’s Andy We Bowo (charcoal and paper put on paper, 2019). Photo: G13 Gallery

Al-Khuzairie’s Wonderland I and II are two intricate ceramic sculptures. Both sculptures have a carnival tent on top, a small display of tiny people in the middle, and a skull near the base. The artist says this work is about the state of overdevelopment.

“When we talk about skulls, we usually think of death, but they can also serve as a warning sign … we have to remember that overdevelopment has a huge impact on the environment, the social circles, human rights, and the global economy,” says Al-Khuzairie, 35.

For a sense of surreal, hidden messages and a helping of monster art, Shafiq Nordin’s Best ‘Burger’ In Art Scene! and Eddie Hara’s Call 117. Destroy Bad Art are works to attract young viewers.

Eddie Hara’s Call 117. Destroy Bad Art (acrylic on canvas, 2017). Photo: G13 Gallery

Across the gallery, Khairudin’s work We All The Same From Inside hits closer to home.

It takes a stand against discrimination. It is a composite of the faces of three boys: one Chinese, one Malay and one Indian. By overlaying the image of a skull above these faces, the artist points out that though our skin colour is different, underneath, we are all the same.

“I looked at the function of skeletons. It’s the most important thing for humans, because it helps us to move, and if we can’t move, we can’t do anything. And when I start my figurative drawing, I start with the skull, its the basic fundamental part of the body. The skull is not a dead-end topic,” says Khairudin, 31.

Not bad for a skull-inspired show without pirate flags or poison bottles.


#Skull runs at G13 Gallery, Kelana Square, Petaling Jaya in Selangor till April 27. The gallery is open from 11am-5pm daily except Sundays and public holidays. More info: www.g13gallery.com or call: 03-7880 0991.