Shrunken heads and other curiosities

Article and photos: Ursi Wu 

Shop: Little Shop of Horrors
Venue: 11 Mare Street, London E8 4RP

It’s a badass little place just around the corner from hipster central. A mix of mysterious, freakish, bizarre and unexpected with a good pinch of silliness.

It’s the definition of super fucking weird, it’s the beautiful collection of rare oddities in Victor Wynd’s Little Shop of Horrors.

Dive in with me into Mr. Wynd’s re-creation of a 17th century Wunderkabinett, where every surface, wall and ceiling is covered with weird stuff.

The first thing I notice is the new decoration in the shop window. 9 stuffed mice having a royal banquet. Sitting in little cute chairs at a long, red velvet covered dining table, set with tiny golden candle holders, plates, knifes and forks.

As I turn around, right next to the two-headed teddy bear, Ted & Eddie, I spot the stuffed mice brooches, some of them with their guts out. It’s yours for 40 pounds. In fact, most of the items in this shop/gallery/museum are for sale.

A mysterious man with grey wispy hair and moustache is sitting on an old wooden chair covering his eyes with his black fedora hat. I give him my 2 pounds entry fee and walk in further, past the book section, the flying dogs, cats and bats, the two-headed lamb and into the gallery. I find the room arranged with more taxidermy and some moody paintings.

As I walk down the stairs, holding on tightly to the railing because my eyes are glued to the walls around me, I realise I’m going to spend quite some time here. The blood red, tiny basement, equipped with old museum cabinets, is crammed to its full potential.

And there it is, lurking in the corner. The shrunken head. Something I haven’t seen before. Impressive for sure. The size of a grapefruit like it should be. It really just looks like some person’s head, only smaller and more leathery. Creepy yet beautiful at the same time.  

 But how do you shrink a head? The instructions for this are written on a piece of fabric hanging on the wall. It starts by saying:

“Cut off your victims head as close as possible to the base of the neck.

Slit the head at the back from the base of the neck to the crown.

Peel the skin from the skull and save it. Throw the skull and brains into a river or stream as a sacrifice to the spirit of the Anaconda. Turn the face inside out and remove all fatty tissue.”

The Jivaro people of South America were well known for the practice of shrinking the heads of their enemies, taken from the battlefield. They performed this ritual to trap the enemy's spirit and protect themselves from revenge.

“Insert one or two hot pebbles into the neck cavity and whirl the head around by the hair to keep the stones from burning the flesh.

A weeklong festival took place while performing the ritual of shrinking heads. I don’t want to spoil it, go check it out yourself, it’s a fascinating read – it’s a fascinating place and there is a lot more to see.

On the same wall, this other very dead looking object is displayed. It is Pancho Villa’s, one of the most prominent Mexican revolutionary generals’, mummified trigger finger, which was also noted to be missing with his head from his tomb.

Around the corner you can find jars of Amy Winehouse’s and Kylie Minogue’s poo. Seeing the condensation on the glass is enough evidence for me that it’s real. Also on show is Russell Brand’s pubic hair sent down from a barber in Camden.

Stuffed animals everywhere. Skulls of humans, hedgehogs, vipers and more. Walrus and coyote penises, a mammoth tooth and fossilised shark teeth.

A jar half filled with used tissues entitled “The long and lonely nights I’ve spent since you first left home” by Victor Wynd and the world’s largest egg laid by the extinct elephant bird from Madagascar right next to artificial retractable foreskins and a big doll called “Fat Homeless Helen”. An information overload!

More mice. This time mummified, one of them labelled as “Dancing mummified mouse”. Some nice books as well. For example, “What To Say When You Talk To Yourself”, “Sex Instructions For Irish Farmers” and “Cunt Colouring Book”.

My head feels twice its normal size as I find myself back upstairs talking to Vadim Kosmos, the manager of the shop. Apart from his welcoming smile, he looks, and is dressed like a cross between the all-black, pointy-boot-wearing sheriff of an old American wild west town and an undertaker. He tells me Mr. Wynd is in Papua New Guinea at the moment. “Treasure hunting?” I ask. “Well yes”, he laughs, “but everything always depends on customs.”

“You must be sad every time you sell something”. “Yes, of course. We actually just sold a shrunken head for 9000 pounds. We bought it from a German museum and now a German guy bought it. That was months ago but it still hasn’t been picked it up,” he smiles. 

I pick up my free badge and leave this unique little place feeling delighted.