Crochet corals to come to Abu Dhabi

The Crochet Coral Reef Travelling Exhibition, a collection of hand-crafter coral reefs, is coming to the New York University Abu Dhabi Institute this September.

Part of the Crochet Coral Reef Travelling Exhibition on display in Washington in 2010. The exhibits have since travelled to museums and institutions all over the world. Kimihiro Hoshino / AFP
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ABU DHABI // It’s been shown at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg and The Hayward in London. Now the Crochet Coral Reef Travelling Exhibition will soon be on its way to the New York University Abu Dhabi.

“It’s been in Australia and Europe and North America, so this will be the first time it will be in the region,” said Jason Beckerman, assistant vice provost at the university.

The exhibit has been curated by twins Margaret and Christine Wertheim, founders of the Institute For Figuring, a Los Angeles-based organisation dedicated to fostering an appreciation and understanding of the science and maths behind intricate organic shapes and figures.

“We curate the exhibitions and work with the local ‘Satellite Reef’ groups to help them create their own reefs,” said Margaret.

“The pieces in these reefs have been made by Christine and I along with a group of about 30 ‘core reefers’ around the world. They contain some of most fine and skilled pieces and have great visual diversity. There are thousands of pieces in these reefs,” she said.

The Wertheims used elements of hyperbolic geometry to develop crocheting techniques that allowed them to create intricate, woolly patterns resembling natural, brightly coloured coral reefs. Their Crochet Coral Reef project was meant, in part, to raise awareness of the effect global warming and pollution is having on coral reefs, while celebrating geometry and the art of crochet, according to the website

But since their project was launched nearly 10 years ago, it has inspired dozens of groups – known as satellite reefs – all over the world to pick up crochet hooks and join the art, community and environmental movement.

The NYUAD community got on board after the institute invited Margaret Wertheim to give a lecture on coral reefs during a workshop last year.

“We thought, ‘let’s bring Margaret over to give a lecture to the community and see if there’s some kind of interest’,” said Mr Beckerman. “We had nearly 50 people sign up right off the bat.”

The Abu Dhabi Satellite Reef was started, and before long groups of local crocheters began gathering on a weekly basis at the city campus to share their coral reef crochet ideas and create new forms together.

“I was really attracted to the ideals of the project, about the possibility of bringing something to Abu Dhabi that hasn’t happened in Abu Dhabi before,” said Mr Beckerman.

A community outreach component of the Abu Dhabi Satellite Reef, led by coordinator and artist Michal Teague, ensured that everyone, from the university’s students to its security officers and cafeteria workers, had an opportunity to participate in the crocheting workshops.

Ms Teague also held workshops at an MBM women’s labour village.

“Initially, it was looking at the students and staff and faculty at NYU Abu Dhabi and from there we branched out to the wider community,” said Ms Teague. “We’ve got some Emirati ladies, also Canadians, Scots, Australians – so quite a range of people involved.

“We did some outreach to schools and also with the contracted workers at the NYU, we’ve been doing some work with the security. With the low-income workers, they’re living in camps and things, and often it’s good to give them things like this that they can do and learn.”

The crochet reefs created by the Abu Dhabi community will also be on display when the exhibit opens on September 29. Each person who submits a piece will get official credit for their work in the exhibition.

“There is a lot of potential with this project,” said Mr Beckerman. “We’re here in Abu Dhabi doing something that perhaps hasn’t been done before and, in some ways, this project mirrors that as well.

“The idea is maybe it doesn’t stop here. Some people in the project are already saying ‘what do we do next?’”