Not everyone is addicted to modern art, and it is admittedly an acquired taste when you think of the likes of unmade beds and piles of bricks that are meant to pose profound questions on aspects of modern living.
But a recent display of truly original and, just for a change, seriously inspiring and deeply moving sculptures in Molinere Bay off the west coast of Grenada is something that everyone visiting the region should make a point of going to see.
These sculptures are not housed in an art gallery but are on the actual sea bed, which is an astonishingly innovative idea and adds another dimension entirely to these weird and wonderful creations. It also means that they change over time as they interact with sea creatures and the water itself, and they have the power to shock as well as deeply move all those who come to see them.
Disturbing, extraordinary and tantalising, these aquatic sculptures are like nothing you’ve ever seen before and you’ll remember them for the rest of your life. Getting down into their watery environment in scuba gear is an experience in itself, like setting off to see creatures from another planet, in a totally different environment to the one back on earth.
The underwater park in which they’re housed is like the subconscious of Jung and Freud, with its own disconcerting reverberations. There are no clever pickled sharks or clean and sinuous Henry Moore sculptures here, nor anything like you’d expect to find in the grounds of English stately homes. Instead, these weird creations in a landscape of moving currents, algae and fish shoals emerging from the underwater mists like ghosts and vague memories exert a disturbing fascination.
You have to hire a boat from St George’s and take it out into the bay before diving down to the park. This informality is also a part of the magic experience of the sculpture park. You have to find your own way to it, without the help of any of the neon signs you’d expect if it were in Florida for example.
Before you even know where they are precisely you’ve already started interacting with the sculptures here. You peer down into the deep blue waters looking for something in the depths, imagining what’s in store for you – the fascination and danger of the unknown beckons before you even get there.
These sculptures help the coral reefs, acting like a nursery for its renewed growth and development. Tropical storms a few years ago practically tore the reefs here to pieces, and the sculptures are helping in the healing process. Coral grows on these figures which represent famous characters out of the folklore and traditions of the Grenadine islands. They also stand for the common people of the island who have always endured here, rather than great figures from history with their bombastic ideas.
They were created by Jason de Caires, a British sculptor who visited the island some years ago and was moved by the ravages to the reef caused by catastrophic storms. He came up with the brilliant idea of creating body casts from people living locally on Grenada to represent characters out of local folklore, planting his creations on the sea bed to provide the decimated coral with anchor points for renewed growth.
But it is the way in which these hauntingly beautiful figures interact with the coral and change over time that is their most unique attribute. They are never static. They age and lose their original features to time and tide just like real people, and eventually they’ll be completely absorbed into the reef.
When you dive down into the unique underwater sculpture park you’ll be entering the hidden world of Grenada’s dreams and will experience the island in a completely new, unexpected and compelling way. These are interactive dreams, experienced in the complete silence of the waters. When another diver happens along, they too become a part of the dream, with shoals of fish flashing past. It can be an unnerving experience that draws on your own forgotten memories and teases out your unacknowledged yearnings. This unorthodox exhibit has left some visitors in tears.
The La Diablesse figure in particular is truly stunning. This she-devil, a creature out of Caribbean folk tales, wears a wide-brimmed straw hat and has petticoats made of weeds, with encrusted sockets for eyes, and when the silt of the sea bed is stirred up by the currents the effect is almost supernatural.
One woman diver, after approaching close to the figure, said that she could not face it. The green algae mists and sense of doom surrounding it were just too much. Such a figure might be fine in an art gallery, but down here in the age-old Caribbean waters it became something else altogether, a creature out of one’s own darkest nightmares.
Another unforgettable sculpture is The Lost Correspondent. This is a man in a suit sitting at his desk, working on a manual typewriter. The man, his desk and his typewriter are slowly disappearing into the reef as they become encrusted and reclaimed by nature over time. If that doesn’t make you think then you’re a lost cause already!
It’s fairly safe to say that there’s no other sculpture park on the planet quite like this one, and no sculptures quite so moving and thought-provoking.