What Lies Beneath

Written by Sally Maton, photography courtesy Jason De Caries Taylor

An unexpected legacy of the hurricanes and tropical storms that have struck Grenada’s coastline in recent years has been the construction of the world’s first underwater sculpture park. Shocked by the damage to the reefs, British sculptor and diver Jason de Caires Taylor, 33, was moved to give nature a helping hand by installing an artificial reef on the sea bed at Molinere Bay just north of capital town St George’s. Reefs the world over are desperately endangered and installing artificial ones helps to provide a habitat for marine life and allow corals to grow and develop naturally. I had heard all sorts of comments about these sculptures. Most of the pieces are fashioned from bodycasts the artist took of local people and were inspired by Grenadian history and folk tales. “Eerie,’’ said one person I spoke to. “Why?’’ said another. “Fantastic,’’ someone else remarked. I was fascinated by this work but I didn’t know what to expect.

First of all I couldn’t find it. I was expecting signposts, like a notice saying “sculpture park here’’ with a big arrow. We sailed up and down a few times until we found the rocky little cove with a tiny beach in the corner. There is nothing theme park or Disney about this place. You have to interact with it and go and find the sculptures yourself, which all adds to the adventure.

I slipped into the water and swam up and down searching, not really knowing what I was looking for. Then I floated into a shoal of tiny fish; I parted my hands sending a ripple of shimmering bubbles aside and there it was about 15 feet below me—a dark indistinct figure kneeling all alone on the ocean bed. It was Sienna. When I looked closer I could see she was made of wire. She is a character from a story who was able to dive to great depths. She was taken advantage of by hunters for sunken treasure and her story ends in tragedy and betrayal.

Further off lie the figures which make Grace Reef, all cast from the body of a Grenadian woman named Grace. They lie scattered in the sand like huge heavy ingots. There are 16 but I couldn’t spot them all because sometimes they become hidden as the sand washes over them.

I really wanted to see The Lost Correspondent and I eventually found it deep down in between two dark rocks. A man sits at a desk, empty except for an old manual typewriter. It had a sense of humour about it and it is a comment on how rapidly communication has changed. When it was made, the top of the desk was laminated with old newspaper articles about Grenada’s political history. Over the months it has been down there, the stories have become obliterated by the build-up of silt.
de Caires Taylor chose this material so that marine life could easily adhere to the surface and grow—just like children.

And then I found La Diablesse. This was the figure that someone had told me was so eerie that she didn’t want to see it. Now I can see why. In her deep and dark watery ravine she looks sinister. In French, her name means She Devil and she comes from an old Caribbean folktale. The fish swam in and out of the rib bones of her skeletal body. Her face is hidden under a wide-brimmed hat. When she was made she had eye sockets but now they are filled with sea plants. Her skirts are weeds flowing in the water like petticoats.

The photographs on de Caires Taylor’s website that document the various states of transformation as the sculptures change from their original pristine state and gradually return to nature are fascinating to see, and it is surprising just how much they have altered in less than a year. This other-worldly experience is equally rewarding for the casual snorkeller and the scuba diver. Floating weightlessly in the warm clear water above this astonishing installation, senses distorted by being submerged, the fragile beauty of our underwater world is revealed.

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