Soaring sculptures of flora and falcons to be displayed at soon-to-open Yas Mall

Next month, a gigantic sculpture from a prominent South African artist will be unveiled at the entrance of Abu Dhabi’s new Yas Mall.

A view of a monument dedicated to the 'capture site' of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Howick, South Africa. Anesh Debiky / AFP
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The artist behind the monument that honours the former South African president Nelson Mandela at the site in South Africa where he was arrested in 1962 is making his mark on Abu Dhabi.

Marco Cianfanelli of Johannesburg is in the final stages of installing three sculptures he designed in the capital’s newest retail giant – the 2.5 million-square-foot Yas Mall on Yas Island, due to open next month.

Release, the famous sculpture in South Africa, depicts Mandela through 50 contoured steel columns. The Yas Mall sculpture – commissioned by Aldar Properties and as yet unnamed – has been created in a similar fashion.

When the mall opens, the first thing visitors will see at the main entrance is a giant sculpture of six falcons made of 132 painted steel columns standing 18 metres tall on an undulating base that is 50 metres in length.

“The landscape at the base represents dunes,” explains Cianfanelli. “The columns are arranged almost like the patterns the wind makes in the sand that creates the vertical form. The idea is that, as you move around the sculpture, starting when you drive into the mall and when you are inside, you see different falcons from different angles.

“The multiple views and the scale is what makes this sculpture exciting for me,” continues the artist. “From any position, you will see one falcon and the others will break apart, becoming an expression of rhythm, movement or flight. I enjoy these sculptures not just at that precise moment when the image becomes clear, but also when it is losing its clarity.”

The artist began work on the project last summer in collaboration with Jeremy Rose, the same architect he worked with on the Mandela project and other key monuments in South Africa.

The pair first visited the site in Abu Dhabi in June and worked on the initial design stages until September. The production process began in January in South Africa. In May, the 140 tonnes of steel that make up the sculptures were ready for shipping to the UAE. Installation began last month.

“We have never done a sculpture on this scale, where so many things happen from so many angles. I am pleased to say it is coming together really nicely,” says Cianfanelli.

As well as the huge landmark that sits at the entrance, mall visitors – expected to number as many as 20 million per year – will also see two more of Cianfanelli’s works inside.

Situated in the East and West Cultural Courts, the 12-metre-tall steel trees are based on the idea of the local ghaf tree, but are more stylised and, instead of leaves, they have parts of the Arabic alphabet carved into the branches.

“The idea for the trees evolved over time,” he says. “They look a bit like rugged trees of the desert and the leaves are not representative of words – rather, the beginnings of language. The two trees are different, but are variations of each other.”

Heavily inspired by the local environment and wanting to design something that appealed to the many different nationalities who live and work in the UAE, Cianfanelli says that the most important aspect for him is that he leaves behind a piece of art that has a strong relationship with its environment.

“The falcons are a wonderful way to represent the local identity in a way that is uplifting,” he says. “I hope people also find the work inspiring and beautiful.”

• The sculptures will be unveiled at the inauguration of Yas Mall in November. Visit