Saturday, 13 July 2013

Cowrie Shells

Cowrie Shells

My imagination was caught by the description of cowrie shells in the introduction to the first task of the course.

What appeals? They are natural creatures honed by the sea into a tiny and intriguing shape. The combination of simple shape and delicate complextiy appeals visually. And the cool feel of the smooth outside, contrasted with the sharp regular nippy teeth protecting the softness inside the shell.

They were taken to Africa by Arab traders in the thirteenth century, and again by Dutch and English traders through the Guinea Coast ports of West Africa.

'They were used as money, and once the commonest currency in Africa. The ancient egyptians put them in their millions into Pharoahs tombs,' and I have read that they 'thought they were 'magical agents'. In parts of Africa they have been used for bridewealth, payments for fines, divination ("the money of Ifa"), funerals, initiation into secret societies', according to http://www.farafina-tigne.com/beads/shell.html.

The symbolic meanings are so very intuitive - tokens of value, and femininity. The combination of these two hooks my interest. Symbolising the side of being female which is possessed like money. But more subtle. Perhaps the magic is part of the feminine. This is illuminating some dark corners of my head about my femaleness that I didn't know were there. There is something about visually expressing sexuality in such an indirect way that allows complexity to bring its harmony.


So, here is a selection of cowrie images that caught my eye on Google search
http://kitchenwitchuk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/magic-of-sea-shells.html

tumblr/coffee-cigarettes-couture
This one really has a feeling of natural restriction
that seems important. 
Addhttp://www.seashellmarket.com/catalog/
product_info.ph?cPath=23&products_id=89caption

Single shell on its own gives a very different feel.
Love the pattern on the back - want to give it a go.
The eye is drawn to the darkness inside.
Golden cowrie
www.animalsgallery.com
This one has fleshy colours, and the combination of
shine and regular 'teeth' makes it look as if it could eat you.
Deer Cowrie
Another fantastic pattern. And lovely colours. And interesting shape. 

http://www.scubadiving.com/photos/
how/nick-hobgood-avila-beach-calif

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:Cypraea_tigris_(Tiger_cowrie).jpg
These are photos of live cowries in the water, showing that they have a surprising mantle of sensitive tentacles. It's easy to imagine them slimy and soft and timid when you touch them. What a contrast to the shiny hardness of the shell.
Add http://konacoastdiving.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/tiger-cowrie-encounter.html
And this one has great colours and textures around it too.
And just look at what the water and light do to the patterns on the cowrie.
There's this great combination of beauty and disgust in some of these images.

http://invertebrates.si.edu/Features/stories/cowrie.html

http://www.africancraftsmarket.com/
othermusicalshaker_details.htm
Regularity and the combination of
female vulva symbols and pregnant belly

Theres another one of these shakers in a photo at http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-1237249/stock-photo-african-shakers.html that has layers and layers of shells looking like a dancing skirt.


It seems to me that there's a lot here to explore for this project. But there are of couple of other cultural things I want to have a look at first.

 http://www.farafina-tigne.com/beads/shell.html
Just loved the way the pattern is regular and attractive,
and the individual elements are all slightly different
in colour and shape.



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