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Hermit crabs are generally found along the shorelines of beaches throughout the Indo-Pacific region, the western Atlantic and by the Caribbean, pacing their way through migration of shells as they grow throughout their lifetime. However, for artist Aki Inomata‘s hermit crabs, they live a different life.

These unique crabs can be found mingling with humans, exploring different cities by simply moving into new homes that Inomata creates for them through the artform of 3D printing. While it may sound like child’s play, for Inomata to be making homes for these crustaceans, it’s actually an exploration into the issues surrounding political and social stances of migration and national identity.

After partaking in an exhibit back in 2009, held at the French Embassy in Japan, Inomata was able to observe the mutual agreement between Japan and France as they peacefully transferred land from one country to another, thus sparking her curiousity and project of exploring cross-border mobility in an artistic approach. 

Inomata states that the project “brings to mind migrants and refugees changing their nationalities to where they go to reside”, and coincidentally enough, the Japanese term for hermit crab is ‘yadokari’ (宿借), which translates to ‘temporary dwellers’.

By studying the way her muses behave and their preferences for the shape of the printed shells, Inomata has been able to develop elusive and bespoke exoskeletons that replicate famous landmarks and notable architectural designs that define various cities around the world. Meticulously studied, designed and then carefully printed, these lucky crustaceans carry not only new homes, but also stunning pieces of art of their backs. They even get the luxury of being able to choose the shells they want, with Inomata placing the printed shells into a cage for the hermit crabs to pick and choose from.

The project is endearingly and aptly titled Why Not Hand Over A ‘Shelter’ To Hermit Crabs? and you can check out some of Inomata’s amazing designs in the gallery above, and check out more of her work here.

  • Words: Chau Nguyen

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