“It was a sad day for art and sad day for the environment,” said Jason deCaires Taylor, the creator of a new Maldives semi-submerged sculpture, which was recently destroyed after it was deemed un-Islamic.
The Coralarium, which was commissioned by Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi resort, drew criticism from religious leaders in the Maldives. A court called the Coralarium a threat to “Islamic unity and the peace and interests of the Maldivian state” after which, on 21 September, authorities came to hack off the humanoid figures. Now, only the steel frame remains.
Breaking News: Qanoonaa khilaafah Siirufenfushee ga bahattaafaivaa budhu thah Dhivehi Raajje ge salaamathee baaruthakun nagafi. pic.twitter.com/T2JVBPa2Xr
— News (@PSMnewsmv) September 21, 2018
The British artist’s sculpture took nine months to construct before its completion in July 2018. It features life-size human figures atop and within a large steel frame patterned with coral-like motifs. The art gallery is made of pH neutral steel, which is safe for the ocean, and is also intended as a new home for corals and other marine life. Visitors could enjoy the artwork by snorkelling there.
Why and why not?
In Islam, it is a sin to worship idols, but the debate going around is whether Jason’s statues would even incite blasphemy. New Maldives president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih told the Maldives Independent: “We have a need to define what idols are. Religious scholars or the fatwa council must deliberate on this and specify what things can be labelled as idols. Some people on social media are even saying if these are idols, then mannequins are idols, too.” Outgoing president Abdulla Yameen was criticised for not ordering the removal of the statues sooner.
The resort said the removal of the statues was “peaceful and friendly” and did not interrupt its service.
The artist’s reaction
“I was extremely shocked and heartbroken to learn that my sculptures have been destroyed by the Maldivian Authorities at the Coralarium, despite continued consultations and dialogue,” Jason wrote on Facebook. “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 sad day for the environment.”
Other underwater sculptures
The Coralarium may still remain as an empty frame that may soon be inhabited by marine life, but constructing underwater human sculptures is Jason’s signature. You may be familiar with some of his other famous installations.
#1 Gili Islands, Indonesia
Nest is an ode to the circle of life, located near Gili Islands, which are in between Bali and Lombok.
#2 Lanzarote, Spain
Deregulated, one of the many sculptures in Museo Atlántico, Europe’s first underwater museum.
#3 Molinere Bay, Grenada
Lost Correspondent is Jason’s tribute to his late grandfather, who loved writing letters.
#4 Cancún, Mexico
Anthropocene is a replica of the classic Volkswagen Beetle.
#5 Lanzarote, Spain
Crossing the Rubicon is an installation, also in Museo Atlántico, that features 35 figures walking towards a 30m-long wall.
All photos from Jason deCaires Taylor.