The government of the Maldives has destroyed a semi-submerged sculpture gallery conceived by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor on the grounds that it was "un-Islamic".
The Coralarium, which was built off the coast of the Maldives’ Sirru Fen Fushi resort near the centre of the archipelago in the Indian Ocean, was demolished by Maldives police on Friday. A court had given the resort a deadline to remove the "idols" – about 30 sculptures of the human form – or the police would remove them.
The gallery was intended for visitors equipped with snorkels
It was one of the last acts of the government of President Abdulla Yameen, who suffered a surprise defeat in the Maldives’ election on Sunday.
After learning of the action, DeCaires Taylor commented in an email: "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."
Maldives’ authorities took a pick axe to the Coralarium (Maldives police)
The Tourism Ministry said the Coralarium was built in contravention of the permission given to the resort, and the court ruled that it posed a threat to "Islamic unity and the peace and interests of the Maldivian state" and that its removal was necessary to "protect the five tenets of Islamic shariah".
The resort tried to make the best of the demolition of the attraction. It commented to the Maldives Independent that it was surprised by the authorities’ actions, but that the removal process was "peaceful and friendly, without interruption to our world-famous service".
Only the human forms were removed, however, leaving the Coralarium’s metal cage intact.
In Norway, the figures float about 2m below the surface, and are anchored to the bottom by an "umbilical cord" (deCaires Taylor)
Meanwhile, deCaires Taylor, who specialises in aquatic sculpture with ecological and philosophical messages, has just completed another installation, this time in a Norway’s Oslo Fjord.
"Nexus" consists of two bronze figures holding hands on a cement pontoon, and a number of figures below the water, tethered to the bottom by a "umbilical cords" that signify "our inherent connection and dependence on the natural world".
Top image: The Coralarium was billed as the world’s first semi-submerged art gallery (deCaires Taylor)