Coral Sculpture Exhibit in Maldives Immerses Ocean Art in Tidal Waters

The main submerged gallery building in the Sculpture Coralarium. (Image courtesy of Jason deCaires Taylor)

The Sculpture Coralarium is an art installation in the center of the largest developed coral lagoon in the Maldives, on the island resort of Fairmont Sirru Fen Fushi. The artwork is a semi-submerged tidal gallery that exhibits a series of sculptural artworks on the skyline, inter-tidal area and seabed.

The 200-ton tidal building is cube shaped, six meters tall, with its front façade submerged up to a median tide of three meters. The design of the walls references local natural coral structures and is porous to allow the tides, currents and marine life to pass through and the structure to flow in and around it. The complex structural formation is engineered to dissipate oceanic forces while creating a protective space that allows nature to colonize and seek refuge. The construction, using high grade marine stainless steel and pH-neutral cement, aims to reflect and mirror the surrounding blue hues of the coral atoll and the sky above.

The internal gallery space exhibits 14 sculptures on plinths at various heights within the water column, some works completely submerged and others high above the water line. The majority are in mid water, interacting with the marine and terrestrial world depending on the tidal level. The roof is perforated with a coral pattern to allow beams of light to illuminate the individual works and a series of submerged lights to illuminate the space at night.

The sculptures themselves are hybrid forms, part-human, part-plant, part-coral. The organic forms are based on endemic species of the island and its surrounding reefs, banyan trees, screw pines, strangler ivy, mushroom and staghorn corals. Most of the works also feature root systems, symbolic of the dependence of humans on the natural environment, a connection to place. White fragments of dead calcium coral washed up by the sea form the shapes of bones, ingrained into the surfaces, aiming to show how the coral reef’s are part of the Maldivian DNA.

Visitors to the space can attend guided diving tours explaining the installation and ocean wildlife. To get to the main gallery, visitors walk down steps on the beach that proceed underwater, follow an underwater sculpture path lined with trees, and swim to the gallery located in the submerged metal building just offshore. Cultivated coral reef is also being installed as underwater landscaping around the site as part of its mission to be nondestructive to the environment and to steward ocean life in the area.

Watch the short film below about the creation of the Coralarium as described by its creator, sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. Or learn more at the Coralarium website.


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