Expo 2020 Dubai: Community project to build ‘ever-growing’ coral reef artwork

— Alamy Stock photo
— Alamy Stock photo

Dubai - Australian artist Sue Ryan will create the centrepiece sculpture, ‘Hammour House’, which will be made of fish nets discarded in the ocean


Anjana Sankar

Published: Sat 19 Jun 2021, 9:25 PM

Last updated: Tue 22 Jun 2021, 8:23 AM

When Expo 2020 Dubai opens in October, you can be part of a movement and help build an ‘ever-growing’ coral reef to create awareness about the UAE’s marine life.

Ahmed Al Enezi, senior manager for arts and culture at Expo, said the curated community art project will bring together different segments of the community — including schoolchildren, fishermen, scientists, artists and a number of institutions — to build a coral reef or a house for hammour, an orange spotted grouper and one of the most overfished species in the UAE. Coral reefs are its main habitat and due to the destruction of the marine eco-system, their existence is also under threat.

Famous Australian artist Sue Ryan will create the centrepiece sculpture entitled ‘Hammour House’, which will be made of fish nets discarded in the ocean and other marine debris.

“[The sculpture] resulted from Ryan’s pre-Covid-19 lockdown visit to the UAE, where she had the opportunity to immerse in the natural environment of the UAE, as well as engage with the local fishermen community,” Al Enezi said.

“This will be complemented by an ever-growing coral reef-inspired installation, (which will be created) visitors who attend our art workshops for 3D-printed sculptures,” he added.

“If they then revisit Expo two weeks after their workshop participation, they will be able to spot their ‘corals’.” Students will also be showcasing a tapestry depicting marine life.

Al Enezi said one of the key inspirations behind Hammour House was the One Thousand and One Nights story of Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman.

“In this story, the fisherman develops a friendship with a merman, who looks exactly like him, but has a tail of a fish. The fisherman learns about underwater life and begins to appreciate that fish is not just a source of food, but an organism that is subject to complex systems and hierarchies similar to those found on land.”

Likewise, Hammour House uses humanising elements, such as describing coral reefs as a ‘house’ for the hammour fish in the UAE, urging people to protect the precious marine life.

A sculpture made of ghost nets

Australian artist Sue Ryan will be immersing Expo visitors in an underwater world through her Hammour House sculpture, which weaves sustainable fishing into local stories.

When asked why she chose abandoned fish nets — also known as ghost nets — for her art project, Ryan said: “I did not choose ghost nets. They chose me.

“Ghost nets are fishing nets that are lost and/or abandoned at sea. They are carried by currents and tides and can travel in the ocean for many years. Some nets are kilometres in length and can weigh tonnes. They are called ghost nets because once adrift, they continue to do what they are designed to do, as if fishing with unseen hands,” said Ryan, who has worked with indigenous communities in Australia and have used ghost nets for art projects.

These nets, which are very difficult to see in the water and appear as ghostlike forms, have a devastating effect on marine life and the environment.

For her Hammour House research, Ryan visited the Emirates and got a chance to immerse herself in the UAE environment.


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