The Maldives are the lowest-lying nation in the world. The highest point is just 2.4m above sea level, meaning the country’s culture and fate are intimately tied to the vast ocean surrounding it.
To commemorate that relationship and remind visitors of what could be lost to the rising seas, artist Jason deCaires Taylor has created a living sculpture garden in the waters of the largest developed coral lagoon in the country.
From the shore, it looks like an alien cube shimmering amidst the azure water. But swim out to it by following the underwater coral pathway that extends from the beach to the punctured metal installation dubbed the Sculpture Coralarium, and it will reveal its secrets.
Within airy confines meant to mimic the shapes found in coral gardens, sculptures rise from the depths on pedestals. Some look fully human, while others merge the human form with coral and local flora to illustrate the ways in which Maldivians — all of us, really — depend on the natural world to sustain us.
Water passes through the laser cut metal, allowing the gallery to inhale and exhale with the tide. The deepest underwater sculptures are children, peering back up at viewers from the blue abyss.
It’s a stark reminder that we’re really screwing this planet up and places such as the Maldives are ground zero. A recent study estimates that numerous atolls — low-lying islands composed of fused coral, which includes many of the Maldives’ islands — could be rendered uninhabitable by midcentury as invading seawater pollutes their freshwater resources and eventually swallows them.
While the Sculpture Coralarium is a good reminder of what’s at stake, its location is also a little rich. Literally. The installation is situated at the Fairmont, which bills itself as “a 120 luxury all-villa resort” and boasts a 200m-long swimming pool that cuts through the whole island (and is the jumping off point to get to the installation).
Based on a search for early next month, the cheapest room goes around $770, and that doesn’t include $1400 per person roundtrip seaplane transfers from Male, the capital city.
The only people who are likely to be able to visit Sculpture Coralarium are those who are at once most responsible for climate change and most insulated from its impacts. Which might make it the perfect monument to climate change.
All the images below are courtesy of Jason deCaires Taylor.