Photo Essay: Reykjavik, Skull by Skull

Last night I reluctantly flew home from Reykjavik, after four days of thirstily drinking in the city’s culture. Whilst I would easily call it the friendliest and most welcoming place I’ve ever visited, equally I can’t help but point out – and fully embrace – the average Reykjavikur’s obsession with death.

Santa Karamba Mexican restaurant advert with skulls

The first example I found was this Mexican restaurant, complete with Day of the Dead-style logo.

Comedy skull telephone at a second-hand market

A bone-chilling phone at the Kolaportið Flea Market.

For those of you still baffled by the name of my blog, ‘calavera’ means skull. I chose it because I have a bit of a thing about skulls, which increasingly shapes my travel plans as I drift towards anatomical museums, graveyards, castles with years of history and possibly a resident ghost… the list goes on. With Iceland, I didn’t really know there was such a predilection for the morbid until I really got here; I was just keen to see how such a vibrant and creative nation has sprung up in a country that looks so post-apocalyptic at times.

Dead artistic gallery, Reykjavik

Sadly, the Dead shop was closed until next week, but I managed to catch a glimpse of what was inside, and saw the skull on the door.

Banksy-style stencilled skull on Laugavegur, Reykjavik

This simple stencil makes an impact.

As I walked along the streets, peering into shop windows and following the trails of graffiti, I began to notice that I’m not the only one with skulls on my mind. Reykjavik seems to have adopted them as an unofficial symbol and a thread running through its own narrative.

White rabbit skull motif on a black motorbike

The mudguard on this motorbike was morbid too.

Icelandic beer on tap at the bar in Reykjavik

Black Death beer (centre) is normally on tap at Dillon, on Laugavegur.

Maybe it’s because the city has such a punk spirit, or maybe it’s because less than a million Icelanders have ever lived so far – that’s all of the dead and the ones still living today. In such a tiny population, perhaps death might be all the more significant than in a place where it’s standing room only in the graveyards.

White skull mural on a multi-coloured flame background in Laugavegur

Part of the mural in the garden at Dillon featured another example.

Child's mural of warrior, stick woman and skull

A childlike painted version sits on this garden wall.

The obsession doesn’t end quite there, but it dovetails into a few related areas where they can let their imagination run wild. Reykjavikurs seem keen to dip into fantasy worlds of zombies, dragons, gothic symbolism and blood-curdling legends, all topics that can seem creepy or leftfield to your average tourist who just wants a nice photo of a whale and maybe a trip to the famous church. Personally I think that it just shows how creative they are, and it’s great to see them wearing their motifs like badges of pride on their walls or in their bars.

Zombie graffiti in Heart Garden, Reykjavik

Not quite a skull, but a zombie motif at the Hjartagarðurinn park.

Are you creeped out or intrigued by this recurring motif? Let me know.

5 responses to “Photo Essay: Reykjavik, Skull by Skull

  1. Pingback: How to pack your suitcase for a short break: in fashion-speak and everyday language | The Travelling Calavera·

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