As much of the world’s ocean reefs are disappearing due to rising water temperatures, pollution and acidification, one artist is drawing attention to the waters’ plight with his stirring sculptures that attract humans, while providing new habitats. One work in particular is gaining recognition due to its size, beauty and meaning.
By Eric Herman
“She” is the world’s biggest underwater sculpture. Ocean Atlas sits on the ocean floor off the western coastline of New Providence in Nassau, Bahamas, gracefully and impressively drawing attention to the plight of oceanic habitats.
Created by environmental artist and sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, the work depicts a local Bahamian girl carrying the weight of the ocean above her, crouching under her burden.
The image was inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Atlas, the Titan who held up the heavens, and draws a powerful analogy about the enduring weight of environmental stewardship. In Greek mythology, Atlas (The Bearer of Heavens) was the Titan god who personified the quality of endurance. Atlas was a leader of the Titans in their war against Zeus. After being defeated, Atlast was condemned to carry the sky upon his shoulders.
Ocean Atlas is impressive, reaching a towering five meters tall from the ocean floor to the surface, and weighing over 60 tons. Due to its sheer scale, the sculpture had to be assembled underwater in sections using an ambitious new technique developed and engineered by Taylor.
The installation is a dramatic increase in scope from Taylor’s previous works. Its sheer size ensures that even after it’s covered in coral, the figure will still remain highly recognizable. Older works by Taylor have gained an almost ghostly aura as ocean life engulfs them, a quality that represents the eternal relationship between the seas and human kind.
At low tide, the figure reflects a mirror image on the underside of the sea’s surface, creating dramatic and surprising visual treat for divers. For safety, a solar light and flag is located on the highest point of the colossal underwater installation to aid marine navigation.
Constructed in 2014 using sustainable pH-neutral materials, Ocean Atlas creates an artificial reef for marine life to colonize and inhabit, whilst drawing tourists away from overstressed natural reef areas.
She has drawn media attention from around the world, which in turn has highlighted a long-standing oil leak from a power station refinery a few miles up the coastline that had been polluting the local marine environment for many years.
With oceans and coral reefs currently facing collapse from numerous threats including overfishing, habitat loss, ocean acidification, global warming and water pollution, Taylor has said the piece symbolizes the burden that we are currently asking future generations to carry and the collective responsibility we must accept to prevent ecological collapse.
The work was commissioned by B.R.E.E.F (Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation) with the aim of creating an underwater sculpture garden in honor of its founder Sir Nicholas Nuttall. The underwater garden includes other sculptural works by local artists Willicey Tynes and Andret John and an artificial reef trail designed by Reefball.
The site is easily accessible to visitors in New Providence at the Clifton Heritage National Park.
Images courtesy of Jason deCaires Taylor.