Randomly coming across public art being created always makes my heart skip a beat, especially when no one is around but the artists. It’s like being invited to a private party being hosted by cool kids. In March 2022, I came across a group of artists creating larger than life sculptures at Langkawi’s Kubang Badak Jetty and I was captivated. Arca Dasar Laut is what a nearby sign said. I had to look that up and Google translates those Malay words to ‘seabed sculptures’. These beautiful creations cum sea sculptures of Langkawi were destined to become a unique artificial reef, and I could barely contain my excitement.
Ironically, I was at Kubang Badak for a resin art workshop that had nothing to do with the big project across the parking lot. In fact, no one seemed to know anything about it. Nor did the local fishermen or stall vendors of Kubang Badak that I asked. It was like an alien ship had landed and it was just another day on Earth. It befuddled my mind.
But to me, it was a big deal. It’s still a big deal (which is why I’m writing this blog post). It also befuddled my mind that there wasn’t a crowd of onlookers that day watching the rather amazing process and sharing my excitement. The twisting of rebar and chicken wire, the pouring of massive amounts of cement. Imaginations free to create their own renditions of the Langkawi Legends of their choosing; a priceless visual in my book.
From a few conversations I had with some of the artists, I learned that the artists were all from the mainland, and that the theme of the sculptures was ‘Langkawi Legends”. The sculptures were also going to be installed around the Tanjung Rhu area; which seemed odd to me because it’s remote and not exactly protected from tidal surges.
I tried to dig a little deeper and ask more questions about tidal research on the proposed area for the underwater installation, as well as the environmental impact of the materials used. I was assured by one gentleman that extensive research had been done and that all materials were safe for the environment. And then I was brushed off. I got the impression I was asking too many questions and starting to annoy him.
But I was fascinated never-the-less. This was the coolest thing I had seen in Langkawi in a very long time. I loved the idea and the art work looked professional, well thought out and creative as heck. This was a collective body of work of well-seasoned artists and to my eyes, very impressive.
A Little Background About the Sea Sculptures of Langkawi
The Arca Dasar Laut (seabed sculpture) project was sponsored by the Malaysia National Art Gallery and part of Programme Community Based Tourism; a community-based tourism program. Nine professional artists (including one female artist) from various parts of Malaysia were commissioned to be part of this unique project; Tengku Sabri (Terengganu), Umibaizurah Mahir Ismail (Johor), Abdul Multhalib Musa and Low Chee Peng (Penang), Cheah Yin Sum (Selangor), Dr Zainuddin Abindinhazir Abdul Rashid, and Mohd Radzi Ismail and Ahmad Fuad Osman (Kedah).
Having 14 pieces of underwater art successfully being created, the Arca Dasar Laut project now has the honor of being listed in the Malaysia Books of Records as Most Underwater Sculptures (in Malaysia). Bragging rights indeed!
The Big Move to Pulau Pasir
I couldn’t wait to see all of the art pieces underwater, so I kept close tabs on the progress. I was hoping for a ringside seat every step of the way, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I sent Facebook messages and emails to different powers-that-be hoping for an invitation to witness the transfer of the sculptures, but I couldn’t get any responses.
So, low and behold the sculptures were finally moved in May 2022 and installed (without me). I could only witness the process via Facebook photos posted by someone lucky enough to have been there in person. I was jealous to say the least. But I was also completely mystified. The gorgeous works of art were placed about 100 meters from a remote beach on Pulau Pasir and were sticking out of the water. Apparently the whole ‘underwater’ sea bed sculptures plan had a different definition of ‘underwater’. Underwater now meant ‘sometimes underwater’ or ‘underwater at high tide’.
Was this the plan all along? I guess. And who would get to see these amazing not-so-underwater seabed sculptures? Pulau Pasir (Sand Island) is not just a walk from the highway, it’s a boat ride away from any nearby roads.
I asked around. I asked boatmen at Kubang Badak about getting there, but surprisingly enough that really wasn’t their ’turf’ so to speak. I could however hire a private Kubang Badak boat for the excursion for about RM600, which could seat 12 (me and 11 of my invisible friends). Of course, there is no way I’m spending RM600 for sightseeing blog content; it’s against my budget-minded principles.
I asked around some more to see if anyone was promoting tours to the area and came up empty handed. This fabulous new sightseeing venue was a complete mystery, destined to remain a mystery except for a few lucky enough to have access to the pertinent information and an affordable boat ride.
Seeing the Langkawi Sea Sculptures Up Close and Personal
But good things come to those who wait and in August 2022, I saw an invitation to go pick up trash on Pantai Pasir (on Pulau Pasir). The door had finally opened. A free boat ride in exchange for picking up trash? Music to my freelance writer’s ears.
During the beach clean-up excursion, I had expected at least one person to want to go check out the sculptures up close, yet no one showed any interest in offshore swimming. I was uncomfortable to go out there all by myself, so I picked up some trash, enjoyed the scenic boat ride and called it a day. It was looking like I was going to need to hire a private boat after all, and hopefully that would include a boatman who could safeguard me while I was underwater.
But alas opportunity knocked once again! In October 2022, another invitation emerged for a coral conservation event at Pulau Pasir. Apparently, the gigantic sculptures were not enough and another coral reef restoration group wanted to jump on the save-the-seas of Pulau Pasir bandwagon. I’m not sure why this particular location was getting so much attention, but count me in!
That day I learned about tying broken coral to premade reef boxes, but my eye was on the ultimate goal prize. Finally, a chance to get in the water and see those legendary sea sculptures of Langkawi as they were intended to be seen; from underwater.
But guess what? Again, no one got in the water. The various groups launched the coral restoration projects off of their boats and were heading back to the beach for a beach clean-up. It was now or never for me. I asked if I could go in the water just to take a few photos and my boat group was happy to oblige.
No sooner than I was in the water, my boat group also left! Yup, I suddenly realized there was a fairly strong current, and as I fumbled with my leaky mask and Go-Pro I briefly lost distinction between excitement and fear.
As I finless-ly kicked towards my goal, I dove under only to find that I could barely see my hand in front of my face. Really! The water had looked fairly clear-ish from above, but underwater it was an uncomfortable blur of green. This was a bust.
No one on shore was even curious about my brief aquatic excursion either, nor was I applauded for my adventurous efforts. However, I did finally have enough first-hand experience to write this blog post for others who might also be curious about the legendary sea sculptures of Langkawi. On the ride back I asked my boat mates about the visibility and I was told that the dive company people would let you know when visibility was good. Hmmm, ok.
Is it Worth the Effort?
I guess if you really have your heart set on seeing the underwater sculptures from underwater then you must make constant inquiries with the dive company people and hope to get lucky one day. Or just hire a boat and see whatever you can see from above water.
Is it worth the effort either way? Actually yes. Despite the disgruntled sounding lean of this blog post, I still think those sculptures are magnificent. Weird, but magnificent none the less. Low tide would probably be an optimal time for viewing the full Monty version (without diving), but even at high tide you will still be able to see a few of the sculptures peeking out above the water. Truly a strange and wonderful and mysterious art installation that goes well beyond ‘a future potential dive spot’.
How to See the Legendary Sea Sculptures of Langkawi
Well, it looks like you just need to hire a private boat. That could come with a hefty price tag unless you are traveling with a group. You could also make inquiries with Ninety Nine Islands Diver or other local dive companies and see if they have any ‘lucky’ clear-water days forecasted. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes open for any specific Langkawi island-hopping tours that might include a visit to the legendary Sea Sculptures of Langkawi, so stay tuned!