Community Art Meets Science in the Crochet Coral Reef Project

NYUAD hosts educators from UAE schools for a visit to the Crochet Coral Reef, followed by a talk with project founder Margaret Wertheim.

On display until December 4, the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute's Crochet Coral Reef Project exhibition is a colorful and wooly re-creation of our oceans' coral reef communities. Begun in 2005 by sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the Los Angeles-based Institute of Figuring, the project aims to draw attention to the plight of coral reefs around the world, which are being devastated by pollution, global warming, and ocean acidification.

Bringing together community art practices, ecological consciousness, and science, the frilly forms and sculptures of the Crochet Coral Reef Project provide a spirited and powerful experience. Through the activism of the Institute of Figuring, more than 7,000 individuals have contributed to the project, making it perhaps the largest community art and science project in the world.

In addition to the exhibition opening on September 29, the Institute hosted two panel discussions about the art of crochet and the science behind the crocheted coral reef communities.

Radical Craft: Re-imagining Crochet was held in conjunction with the exhibition opening. Attendees were able to view the coral reef sculptures and take part in a talk by project co-creator Margret Wertheim, textile artist and researcher Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam, and "crochetdermist" Shauna Richardson. The discussion focused on the art of crochet and how it has broken traditional boundaries and established itself as a sculptural medium.

"I was really surprised at how this seemingly simple type of art can make a huge difference to life," said Ziyi Mo, NYUAD Class of 2018. "The part that struck me the most was the work by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam. She devoted herself to this simple art for so long that she discovered something that no one else could see — the flow of life and joy that this art form brings to children and adults alike."

It's very exciting to have an art project that is a collaboration between visiting artists and local members of the community.

Andrew Starner, NYUAD Writing Program lecturer

The second panel discussion took place just two days later. Reefs, Rubbish, and Reason focused on the world's coral reefs and the devastating impacts that pollution, global warming, and ocean acidification have on these fragile communities. The panel — whose members included NYUAD Associate Professor of Biology John Burt, Margaret Wertheim, and author and NYU New York Director Emeritus of the New York Institute for the Humanities Lawrence Weschler — discussed the possibility created by the intersection of science and art to establish a global ecological consciousness.

As well as a crochet coral forest, the Crochet Coral Reef Project exhibition features a collection of miniature coral "Pod Worlds" and the NYU Abu Dhabi Satellite Reef, the latest addition to the Institute for Figuring's ever-growing archipelago of community-made crocheted reefs worldwide. Twelve members of the NYUAD community contributed to this satellite reef, including Assistant Vice Provost of Institute Administration and Executive Education Jason Beckerman, Senior Lecturer Jill Magi, Security Guard Ratnayake Mudiyanselage Chandrawathie, and Global Academic Fellow Blair Matarlo.

"It's very exciting to have an art project that is a collaboration between visiting artists and local members of the community," said Andrew Starner, an NYUAD Writing Program lecturer. "It's a great way to interface with the biological sciences alongside art practice and the work that we do in the writing programs, which is, how do we use novel approaches to inform and entertain?"

The Crochet Coral Reef Project will be on display on the ground floor of the Arts and Humanities Building on NYUAD's Saadiyat Campus through December 4. Visitors are welcome daily between 10am and 9pm.