No Sundried Frog for Me

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We went, like we usually do when visiting the capital area during summer, to Suomenlinna sea fortress for a miniature picnic. Not a real picnic this time since we didn’t have proper basket with us, just some odd niblets. Not very well planned altogether. It was sunny though not that warm with the wind blowing from the sea. The fortress was beautiful (as usually) and we managed to find a new secluded spot just by the shoreline. A beautiful spot with a horde of wildflowers blooming around us.

I went treasure hunting like I always do when on seashore. This time the shore was about the size of a king sized bed, but it was littered with old pieces and shards of glass and ceramics many of which I, of course, picked up. Those worn, smooth pieces of smashed coffee cups with the decorations still showing are fascinating. Another kind of Indiana Jones opportunity for me. Some pieces are easy to figure what they used to be but some are so unfamiliar that I can’t be sure where they came from.

I also found a sundried frog. A whole frog, legs and all. He (I don’t know, could be a her) had died for some natural causes meaning that he hadn’t been eaten, not even nibbled. His skin and his whole body had dried completely and he looked like a mummy. Wrinkles and all. I could still make out all the little details. He even still had his tongue, and though the sun had baked him dark, the colouration of his skin was yet visible.

Oh, how I wanted to take him home! He would have deserved a special place in my natural history collection. But he still stank a bit too much, and though he was fascinating, the smell wasn’t. So I left him there with the remaining shards of old glass and settled on drawing him.

May I See Your Passport, Please?

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Last November I visited Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki to see the Mami Wata -exhibition of certain West African religions and their objects. They had a lot of interesting things there, but these miniature passport masks really caught my eye. They are palm sized and made from wood or fired clay. Their shape and colouring varies a lot, and their features are fascinating. They were used as passports when crossing tribal borders and as protective amulets in rituals. Just like contemporary passports there too contain personal information about the holder like tribe (obviously), sex, occupation, standing within the tribe and her/his personal guardian god.

I wish I had had the time and the patience to draw them all, but there were about 30 of them on display. They were displayed in a table-like vitrine and I had to stay standing in order to see what I was drawing. The lighting was also bad. The light form the lamps hung overhead the table reflected from the glass, and some of the masks could be seen properly only from really weird angles. The collection is privately owned and so that was a one of a kind opportunity to see the objects. Oh, I should have persisted!

Evan Thompson

Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia

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