Looking & Listening for the Sea


Paul Dibble



  • Sculpture


  • Bronze

Paul Dibble, ‘Looking and Listening for the Sea’ (1992), Begonia House, Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington

Image: Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, Public Art Heritage Aotearoa New Zealand, 2021


The sculpture depicts a mermaid sits on a spiral seashell, a fish in her hand. She seems to have left the sea as she has bees on her thigh/tail, a rabbit at her side and the shell also suggests a fern koru.

An information panel installed with the work reads:

“Casting in bronze and using unique colour effects, Dibble pokes gentle fun at Kiwi myths and clichés, using images from the land and from our provincial culture.

Dibble’s sculptures incorporate natural figures from the land, such as sheep, rabbits and the moa, and their interaction with man, farmer and hunter.

In 'Looking and Listening for the Sea' (1992), Dibble depicts a mermaid, once believed in but now a myth, as a forgotten figure trying to listen to the sea through the conch shell above her head. Note the bees in their honeycomb on her tail – bees in the wild inhabit rotting wood. The bees symbolise that she belongs to the past and is now landlocked, resting on another conch shell.

The rabbit was placed to balance the sculpture and shows Dibble’s wry sense of humour. The inquisitive rabbit is wondering, will this make a suitable burrow? In the past, if sailors saw a rabbit before they sailed, they believed it meant bad luck and refused to go on board.

The sculpture sits on a recycled kauri and jarrah telegraph pole pedestal.

Paul Dibble is a leading New Zealand sculptor. He holds a BFA from Elam School of Fine Arts, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005 and awarded an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from Massey University in 2007.”