A new sculpture named Coralarium created by the British artist and environmentalist Jason deCaires Taylor was demolished on Sept. 21 by the Maldives’ authorities for being “anti-Islamic.” The semi-submerged artwork has human figurines, frowned upon in Islamic societies, faced an early death in the country where Islam is the official state religion.
The sculpture was previously given a green light by authorities but the controversy surrounding it led the government to reach this decision.
The artwork took over nine months and a team of marine engineers, steel makers, divers and mold makers to construct, ending in July. It was commissioned by the Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi resort. The sculpture, apart from a visual treat, was supposed to allow sea life to explore freely within it and would act as a new habitat for coral and other species. Thirty human figures were positioned on top and inside the frame.
The presence of human figures was criticized by religious leaders and scholars for violating religious sentiments. Soon after it was installed, a statement was released by the president’s office, stating that “due to significant public sentiment against the installation”, the ministry of tourism would facilitate the removal of the sculptures.
The artwork has been at the center of ongoing political debates on the islands. It featured in the pre-election speeches of politicians during last week’s elections. The president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and many others have criticized the outgoing president Abdulla Yameen for not taking steps to remove the sculpture sooner.
The hotel authorities said that they were very surprised by the removal of Coralarium. It has not been removed completely as “The Coralarium structure and underwater trees remain intact, ensuring the coral restoration program remains alive and well. We have initiated immediate re-imagination plans with the artist, creating a new underwater gallery that will be in harmony with the locals and environment,” said the hotel authority.
The sculptor deCaires Taylor, who is globally known for his underwater installations, said he was “shocked and heartbroken” to learn the destruction of his sculpture despite previous consultations.
“The Coralarium was conceived to connect humans to the environment and a nurturing space for marine life to thrive. Nothing else! The Maldives is still beautiful, with a warm and friendly population, but it was a sad day for art and a sad day for the environment,” he concluded.