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November 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 33, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Underwater Statues Are Unwelcome in the Maldives

from the November, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Underwater Statues in the Maldives

British sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor is famous for his hauntingly beautiful sculptures underwater, from Cancun to the Canary Islands. But his latest work, a submerged art gallery in a lagoon on a Maldivian island, has offended Muslim sensibilities - and government officials had it destroyed.

The Coralarium was intended as an artificial reef at the Fairmont Maldives resort on the island of Sirru Fen Fushi in Shaviyani Atoll. It contained several sculptured statues of people, similar to Taylor's other works in the Caribbean and the Canary Islands. But on September 21, all the Coralarium's artwork was hacked away by military, police and other pickaxewielding law enforcement personnel after the thenpresident of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, decided the sculptures were considered idols of worship, and thus offended the five pillars of wisdom of the Muslim faith. The Indian Ocean nation, predominantly Sunni Muslim, was preparing for presidential elections when Yameen gave the order.

Islamic art typically focuses on patterns and Arabic calligraphy instead of on figures, because it is feared by many Muslims that the depiction of the human form is idolatry and thereby a sin against God, forbidden in the Qur'an.

It seems Taylor's eco-art was destroyed as a failed last-ditch effort to mobilize religious support for the incumbent president. However, results of the democratic election on September 23 replaced Yameen with Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as the new president.

"I was extremely shocked and heartbroken to learn my sculptures have been destroyed . . . despite continued consultations and dialogue," de Caires Taylor told supporters. "The Coralarium was conceived to connect humans to the environment, and be a nurturing space for marine life to thrive. Nothing else!"

But Taylor has already moved on. He created 48 life-size figures set in the shallow waters of a new resort on the Indonesian island of Gili Meno, set to open next year. Indonesia is also a predominantly Muslim country. We'll have to wait to see what happens there.

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