Ben Sanders, Skull Thief

Last week, the Australian Centre of Moving Image presented the second annual creative arts conference in Melbourne, known as Field Trip. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the conference this year, although I did manage to get my hands on a catalogue with all the different artists and illustrators that have presented their work at the event.

Ok so I have been to the very first field trip in 2012 and it was great to listen to all the artists, photographers, illustrators, animators and film makers from around the world! I was actually sitting on the edge of my set frantically writing ideas in my note pad, the guest speakers were very inspiring, in fact I was inspired for the entire weekend after Field Trip.

While I was browsing through the latest catalogue, I recognised the works of Ben Sanders, an artist / illustrator based in Melbourne, Victoria. Sanders illustrations are renowned within the advertising industry and the artist has worked for many international corporations such as Vodaphone, Visa, Libra and Time Magazine.

There is one illustration in particular that has captured my attention, Sander’s “skull thief” features the shape of a human skull that is juxtaposed with a dark, textured surface. This two-dimensional skull does feature a very interesting design and the curves invite me to take a closer look at the image. In fact I discovered something rather remarkable the night before, I suddenly realised that the illustration features two different images!

If you take a closer look at Sander’s illustration, you will recognise a dark figure holding a very large sack behind his shoulders. Honestly, I have been looking at this particular illustration for the past few days and I didn’t even realise the ambiguous figure within the very centre of the image. Sander’s illustration is rather clever, the artist has used the shape of the skull to create a dark silhouette of a person carrying some kind of bag or sack.

I began to question how does the skull relates to the figure within the image? According to Sander’s official website and blog, “Skull Thief” reflects a particular moment in time, where museums were taking skeletal remains from “indigenous communities” and preserving them as artefacts within their own establishment, the story was also mentioned in the Australian Geographic who have released a very interesting article in relation to these ethical and cultural issues.

Scott Mitchell from the Australian Geographic believes that the Museums should return the skeletal remains to the ‘indigenous communities’ who have been affected by these practises or procedures. In the article, “Return Aboriginal Sacred Objects”, Scott Mitchell quotes “The first is the active trade in Aboriginal sacred objects. Search online and you are almost guaranteed to find pictures of objects for sale – a distressing violation of cultural protocol”.

In a way, I do agree with Mitchell’s argument, as the skull for instance can contain social and cultural ‘value’, the skull has the power to reflect a person’s identity, this is also mentioned in Mitchell’s article on the National Geographic Website.

So this leads me to my next question….is this a form of grave robbing? Well yes it is, these museums were taking something that did not belong to them in the first place! 

Once you begin to examine Sander’s illustration, you’ll suddenly begin to realise that the image does tell a story, a story that reflects the loss of cultural integrity  across many aboriginal communities, where the skeletal remains are removed and restored as artefacts within Western society.

In fact, I find Sanders illustration so intriguing, I just cannot stop reading about this subject, the juxtaposition between the skull and the mysterious figure does successfully communicates these issues within a creative and innovative manner. 

For more information please click on the URL links below.

Ben Sanders Website:

Ben Sanders Blog:

Mitchell, Scott, “Opinion Return Sacred Objects”, The Australian Geographic, 2012, accessed 17/4/12,

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