- Irene Bagach
This Celeb-Favorite Resort in the Caribbean Has a 22-Foot Spaceman Sculpture
This article originally appeared in People.
When visitors arrive at the Hodges Bay Resort & Spa in Antigua, they will be greeted with a new, curious sight: a towering, 22-foot tall spaceman dancing just above the sea, at the edge of the resort's pier.
The Boonji Spaceman sculpture by artist Brendan Murphy, which debuted at the resort last week, is part of a collaboration between Murphy and Christopher Harding, one of the resort's owners, to showcase several of Murphy's imaginative pieces throughout Hodges Bay.
There's Candy Hearts, a thirty-piece, three-story hanging sculpture as well as an astonishingly lifelike shark sculpture called The Fast Eat Slow looming over one of the lounges.
The resort, which opened in 2018, has been visited by celebrities like Ashanti, Ashley Graham, Lisa Rinna and Flo Rida, but Harding and his partner Jeff Wellemeyer realized their property could benefit from an artist's touch.
The rise of Instagram has made tourists hungry for the most photo-worthy travel spots — and left cities and resorts competing to satiate social media users' appetites. Dubai, for example, has installed a 50-story gold-leafed picture frame outlining its hazy skyline. New York's CitizenM Bowery Hotel installed a vibrant graffiti mural that doubles as a backdrop for impromptu photoshoots.
"My thought was, we needed to create something that is so different, so massive, that people will want to travel here to see it," Harding tells PEOPLE. "If you don't have a strong social media presence in today's day and age, you're not in the game."
Wellemeyer adds, "When we stepped onto the property together, I knew it needed life, so I said, 'Let's make something they can see from space. Let's start there.'"
Harding knew the perfect artist: his friend Brendan Murphy, a contemporary painter and sculptor whose colorful work has been collected by Serena Williams, Warren Buffett and Ryan Gosling, among other famous faces. The pair, once business partners, had drifted apart. But, as Murphy recalls, "Chris called me up a few years ago and said, 'Hey, I miss our friendship.'"
Hodges Bay would become the first project they collaborated on — Harding asked Murphy to outfit the resort with curated pieces from the collection, but also, "we wanted to do something big, that would blow people away," Murphy says. "That's where the spaceman came in."
Murphy and his engineering partner Andy Kostas spent nine months building the Boonji Spaceman sculpture at his studio in Miami. He chose a bright, orange hue to contrast with the Caribbean's blue waters and reflect the resort's brilliant sunrises and sunsets.
Commander Boonji's suit is covered in white, scribbled formulas (the artist's signature design) to represent "passion, desire, and all the different emotions we experience," according to Murphy. Reinforced with a steel skeleton core, its carbon-fiber exterior can withstand winds from a Category 4 hurricane and other natural elements.
The 22-foot, 3,000 lb sculpture had a treacherous journey from Murphy's Florida studio to Antigua. It took three days, 12 men, one massive crane and custom scaffolding to erect the spaceman, which is also mounted in five feet of solid concrete.
Beyond an "Instagrammable moment," Murphy hopes the Boonji Spaceman inspires travelers venturing out into the world for the first time in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.
"The spaceman embraces the unknown, he's dancing through life," Murphy says. "As we look to emerge from the greatest challenge of our generation with COVID-19, I hope this work will inspire people to get back to living, and most of all, to remember that anything is possible."
Commander Boonji has already attracted quite a few fans online since touching down in Hodges Bay, getting tagged in several Instagram posts by resort guests and stirring up chatter on the island. As Murphy waited for his flight home at an airport bar shortly after installing the sculpture, a young bartender asked if he had seen the island's new spaceman. "As an artist, that was really special and exciting," Murphy says. "I think it's going to be a real landmark for the island … the sky's the limit."
Follow Commander Boonji's adventures on Instagram at @giantspaceman.