An underwater sculpture in the Maldives, intended both to help regenerate coral reefs and to bring attention to climate change, has been destroyed after the country’s Muslim leaders determined that it violated Islamic law.
As ABC News reports, the Coralarium, created by British artist Jason DeCaires Taylor, sat a few feet under the surface in the Indian Ocean archipelago, surrounded by a stainless steel cage, where scuba divers could enjoy and appreciate it. At night, the sculpture was illuminated with lights, making it even more of an attraction with divers.
That is until the country’s president ordered it destroyed.
Though popular with Western tourists and filled with luxury rentals who come for the unmatched ocean views and snorkeling and scuba diving, the Maldives is also a Muslim theocracy. The country’s religious leaders complained that the sculpture’s human forms violated Islamic law – because the law prohibits “idols,” which has largely been interpreted to forbid art that depicts humans and, in some cases, even animals.
The country’s president, Abdulla Yameen, agreed and ordered the project destroyed.
Taylor was devastated. In a series of photos he posted on Instagram, he writes of his sorrow in seeing his work pulled up from the sea floor and shattered with axes.
“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. The Coralarium was conceived to connect humans to the environment and a nurturing space for marine life to thrive.”
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Sculptures Destroyed at the Coralarium On Friday last week 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. 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.
The Coralarium was to serve two purposes, a practical one and a philosophical one.
In a practical sense, Taylor had hoped that the sculptures would one day be covered with coral; manmade objects have been placed on the ocean floor in the past, with the hopes that they would eventually be covered with coral. Those include other sculptures, as well as sunken ships, all intended as part of coral reclamation efforts.
In a philosophical sense, the sculpture was intended to draw attention to climate change, a problem that’s particularly pronounced in the Maldives. The archipelago’s 29 atolls and countless other islands and outcroppings have an average elevation of just four feet above sea level, and they are being challenged by rising sea levels. In fact, by some measures the country may not even exist, having been covered by rising seas, by the end of this century.
This is not the first time that art has been destroyed in the name of Islam. Perhaps most famously, in 2001, the Taliban destroyed two sixth-century statues of the Buddha, claiming their existence violated Islamic law.