Maldivian Government Destroys World’s First Intertidal Art Gallery

(Cat Vinton)
(Jason deCaires Taylor)
(Cat Vinton)
(Jason deCaires Taylor)

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Before President Abdulla Yasmeen lost the country’s election, his government ordered the demolition of the conservation-minded underwater sculpture garden

Update, September 24, 2018: The world’s first semi-submerged art gallery space is no more. The Maldivian government ordered the destruction of the Coralarium at Fairmont Maldives days before incumbent President Abdulla Yasmeen lost the country’s September 23 presidential election. The Maldives Independent reports that local media was told the approximately 30 sculptures featured in British sculptor and naturalist Jason deCaires Taylor’s work, which were based off casts of real people, were declared idols and had to be removed to “protect the five tenets of Islamic shariah.”

Taylor has not issued a statement yet on the destruction of the work, but in the wake of the demolition, Maria Padget, who has collaborated with Taylor, posted on Instagram* that the Maldivian government had previously “signed off all permits for a resort’s art installation featuring ‘human form’ sculptures”.

According to Al Jazeera News, the “unprecedented raid” occurred after President Yasmeen “railed against what he said was a plot by the ‘Western-backed opposition’ to undermine Islam in the Maldives in advance of a highly charged election.”

When the Coralarium was first unveiled in July, Taylor called it “a place of preservation, conservation and education.” Since 2014, the low-lying atoll nation has been struck by severe coral bleaching, and the artwork was designed to create artificial reefs over time. Read’s initial coverage of the Coralarium:

British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor has made a name for himself with art that primarily caters to the scuba diving and snorkeling set. In 2006, he created the world’s first underwater sculpture park off the coast of Grenada. In 2009, he co-founded the Museo Subacuático de Arte off Mexico’s Yucatan, which houses some 500 submerged statues. In 2016, he launched Europe’s first underwater sculpture garden in Lanzarote.

In comparison, his latest project in the Maldives is a somewhat more accessible experience: As Jessica Stewart at MyModernMet reports, it’s the world’s first intertidal art gallery.

The piece is called “Coralarium,” and it’s located at the luxury hotel the Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi. To get to the art, visitors can follow a long pool that leads to the sea; there underwater poplars and living staghorn coral mark a path toward a staircase where the partially submerged, stainless-steel cube rests. Inside the porous enclosure are nearly 30 pH-neutral concrete statues—many of which are casts of local Maldivians—which are checkered with white fragments of dead coral to promote the colonization of future coral polyps. The area is also seeded with coral to encourage growth.

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