Conch shell sculpture shows potential of local materials

Cayman artist Luelan Bodden shows off a crab sculpture he made from local conch shells. - Photo: Ken Silva

Cayman artist Luelan Bodden has aimed to spark controversy in the past with sculptures that challenge religious and cultural norms, but his latest piece is a testament to what can be made just from local material.

Last week, Mr. Bodden finished the sculpture, a crab made from local conch shells, wrapping up a project he has been working on since October.

“The process is mental for about two months, where you’re just beating your mind up to think about where to cut the shell, and doing sketches here and there,” he said. “Then one morning you say, ‘This is it,’ and you open up the shell to see what parts you can find.”

Building a sculpture out of conch shells is not an easy endeavor. Mr. Bodden said he had to use a diamond saw blade to cut the shells, whose outsides are a very hard, glassy material that is difficult to cut with precision.

“If you don’t move your fingers, it will give you a nasty chop. And I’ve gotten a few chops in my time,” said Mr. Bodden, who is a full-time electrician.

While others in the Caribbean use conch shells to make smaller figurines and other crafts, Mr. Bodden said he believes he is the only artist in the region that uses them to make detailed sculptures.

“The amount of work I did, and that I know I don’t have any competition,” is why he’s seeking to sell his conch crab for $15,000, he said.

The crab sculpture is a sharp contrast to other more provocative works in his gallery off Crewe Road, including conch shells resembling genitalia and an electric chair with a crown of thorns above it.

One sculpture, made mainly from palm fibers, features a globe, held up by a hand which, Mr. Bodden said, is the hand of God.

A giant spider sits on the world, laying eggs and enveloping it in its web. Across the world from the spider is a serpent, symbolic of the serpent in the garden of Eden.

Below the world is a bowl containing capsules, a series of handwritten calculations and an excerpt from the Book of Revelations concerning the coming of the anti-Christ and the marks that people will bear on their hands or foreheads. The sculpture represents Mr. Bodden’s view of the coming of the anti-Christ.

“Older people go crazy, they don’t want to see it,” he said of some of his work.