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Inside the Maldives’ Most Artistic Hotel

The Maldives’ newest property is also its most creative, with a boutique-style focus on immersive art experiences.


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There’s more to the Maldives’ newest resort on Muravandhoo Island than luxury overwater bungalows and white sand bike paths. Walking around the 98,000-square-meter island in the Raa Atoll is like wandering through an outdoor art gallery. Joali Maldives is the Maldives’ first and only “art immersive hotel,” with each piece commissioned specifically for the property and based on the island’s natural environment. Each piece was either made from raw natural materials or created to blend into its physical environment so that the art is unique but never distracting or garish.

“Joali Maldives is about the indulgent side of life, and art is part of the brand. Many hotels blend the same art on each floor. We wanted [the art] to create talking points with guests,” said Steven Phillips, the General Manager, who was also involved in choosing the art for the property. Phillips requested that the artists utilize materials either from the island or inspired by the island.

The hotel, which officially opened November 19, 2018, trumpets unconventional luxury and the artistry of life. To underscore this point, Joali brought in No Lab, a Turkish art collective established in 2016. Zeynep Ercan and Ala Onur, No Lab’s creators, chose artists based on the brand’s mission to share the joy of living. No Lab found these artists at art fairs, design shows and on trips around the world.

“We really wanted people to experience these pieces and interact with them,” said Onur.

The majority of the artists were on site to create or help install their pieces while the resort was being built, making sure art truly was part of the hotel’s DNA. The installations were placed around the island with consideration given to their environmental surroundings.

The artists found plenty of inspiration on the island’s azure waters, perfect weather, and endemic species. The grey heron features in several pieces, like Ardmore’s heron-patterned wall panels and carvings scattered throughout the property. Capetown-based Ardmore, which is comprised of Catherine Berning and Sidney Nyambeze, also designed the in-room kimonos with similar heron patterns. (Ardmore has also created patterns for Hermes scarves.) And Porky Hefer designed two interactive installations based on the island’s creatures. The first is a human-sized swinging chair made to look like both a heron nest and a heron’s head.

“He does these inhabitable nests and he’s very inspired by animals. He puts people inside of these animals and creates a piece from the animal’s point of view,” said Ercan.

Hefer came to the island three times and worked closely with the installation architects, which is unsurprising given the scale of his second piece. Inspired by the large manta rays common to the Maldives, Hefer created a lookout tower designed to be a mother manta, with a baby manta nearby. He wanted to create a scene where the two mantas are floating in nature. Over time, flowers will grow over the support beams. The ramp to enter the crow’s nest inside the manta is meant to be the creature’s tail.

“He was scared it would look a little industrial so they changed the tail to wood. We want it to look as natural as it possibly can. The colors really blend in with the trees. They adapted everything to nature, they didn’t change any trees or plants, they went around them,” said Ercan.

Nacho Carbonell created “Evolution Bench” out of mixed sand, newspaper, and organic glue. The person-sized nest on one end of the bench is meant to be explored as part of the piece.

“We have overloads of information these days… I wanted to create a moment, a space to reflect or to analyze or to digest this information that we had. So with the newspapers basically I created this chair and this hole next to it,” said Carbonell.

“The bench is this idea that we are all in a metro station or bus station, and we are all surrounded by people… but at the same time we are in our own little universe and communication is not happening. I wanted to show this duality of being. We are all together but the same time I am isolated in my own universe, in my own little world,” he added, disappearing into the nest next to the bench.

The artistic vibe transitions seamlessly into each bungalow and villa, thanks in part to Seckin Pirim, who created the blue wall sculptures that shift based on the viewer’s vantage point.

“All of my works comes from the sentiment ‘from one to all.’ With these pieces, you can see that every line gets together and becomes one piece. When you look at the sculpture from another side you see that it opens like an oyster and you can find the pearl, like these islands,” Pirim said. Initially, it was tough to convince Pirim to create sculptures for every room, but he was so inspired by the ocean’s many shades of blue that he agreed.

“It’s nice to have a wall piece. You really want to move around these sculptures. With the sunlight and shadow they move,” said Onur.

Two other artists tackled the problem of coral bleaching in their sculptures. In the spa, Zemer Peled’s porcelain coral statue “Maldives Vibes” goes from colorful to stark white.

“You can see the color of the memory of what was lost and maybe in the future we can still fix it,” Peled explained. Peled spent nine months creating each individual porcelain piece in her Los Angeles studio before assembling it and firing it in a kiln.

“Normally Zemer’s pieces are very vibrant and colorful. Instead of having whites on the outside, we wanted the white to show the bleaching alongside the vibrant colors as well, to kind of remind you what was. This piece was supposed to be on land but last minute we decided to put it on water,” said Onur.

“I love the light and the water here. It changes all the time. This piece is very heavy but the water makes it feel flowy,” said Peled.

Misha Kahn created several sculptures on site, including an underwater sculpture garden for divers set 50 to 90 meters deep. It took about 15 days for a team of about 20 people to arrange the roughly 60 concrete and ceramic sculptures beneath the sea.

“The builders were a little tired of the [hotel] construction going on, so when this crazy artist came up to them and asked for help they had fun putting the ceramics on. It was very interactive and very playful, which is nice,” said Onur.

The color scheme goes from vibrant to neutral, bleaching away one by one to reflect the issue of dying coral reefs. Regenerated corals will be planted on the last statue, creating a new reef over time.

John Paul Philippe created an outdoor bench with a grey heron as his interpretation of a “joali” (the Dhivehi word for a round hanging basket-like chair).

“His style is very old school but we love it. We contacted him because he has these amazing wall pieces. Obviously, since we don’t have any walls we wanted him to come up with a more functional kind of piece,” explained Ercan.

Philippe’s bench is the first in an ongoing art project where artists reinterpret the joali. They will be displayed throughout the property, next to a typical joali made by a local craftsman, for guests to relax in.

“Everything that we show here is touchable, enjoyable. That’s the whole point,” said Ercan.


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