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Coral sculpture / Gili Meno, 2023

The Gili islands are some of the most picturesque and idyllic in Indonesia, famed for their clear waters, sandy beaches fringed with palm trees, and the coral reefs that lie just offshore. As the region’s leading tourist destination, they are also famous for mass coral bleaching and the community’s frustrated efforts to restore it.

On the smallest island of Gili Meno, we found a white seashore composed of coral skeletons, mixed with the multi-coloured flip-flops that continually drift ashore from the mainland. At an enormous construction site in the north of the island, locals were grinding these corals into smooth sand and moving palm trees closer to the shore in an effort to satisfy the picture of paradise. Others were busy serving the visitors who come here to dive with sea turtles at “Turtle Spot”.

“Adeng-adeng” is a phrase you’ll hear again and again, walking around the island —it means “slowly-slowly”, and represents the relaxed philosophy of the locals. We also found it an accurate way to portray the degradation of the coral reef— the process of natural growth is so slow in comparison to its rapid bleaching and decay. The piles of skeletons on the beach grow day after day, becoming part of the everyday scenery for those who come and go. We used dead corals as building blocks to erect a monument to the reef in the shape of colonial building ruins. The colonial era may have ended, yet its lingering traces still bring misfortune to those who inhabited these islands first. As the sad beauty of the work attracts bored tourists to take yet another selfie, we hope to engage them in rethinking the hidden side of paradise.

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