At first, shadows sway beneath the ripples. The tip of a head breaches the waterline, followed by a forehead, then eyes—closed and calm. Standing alongside, at various heights, are other hybrid human forms happily tethered by their stone banyan tree roots, algae and coral.
A Maldivian first, this intertidal art gallery is the brainchild of British artist, Jason deCaires Taylor. Wading in the shallows of pristine Shaviyani Atoll, Taylor’s installation sits just metres from the beach at the newly opened Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi. ‘Planted’ with sculptures of trees, humans, coral and fish, the eco-sensitive Coralarium draws snooping snorkellers from the luxury all-villa resort.
Seascaped with an underwater pathway propagated with coral fragments, steps rise to the gallery, offering a symbolic and physical connection between the land and the sea. The sculptures (made from pH-neutral, marine-grade cement) come encased within a large stainless steel cube. Shards of sunlight spear through its cut-out shapes of marine life that allow shoaling fish, crustaceans and worms to join the newborn corals, sponges, and algae. As new reef continues to grow on the sculptures, their cavities will provide additional real estate for refuge.
The sculptor refers to his underwater gallery as a ‘museum’: an institution that is responsible for “preservation, conservation and education,” as explained during one of his TED Talks. His famed maritime installations have thrilled divers in the Canary Islands, the Caribbean and Mexico.
And when night falls beyond this sandy isle, the roof of the gleaming six-metre-high cube sports black sculptures, beautifully silhouetted before the sinking sun. This ingenious attraction is a unique drawcard for the Maldives—one that will be in constant evolution. Just imagine returning over time to see how nature will continue to bloom upon this manmade, yet increasingly biodiverse ecosystem.
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