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Jason deCaires Taylor Art Installation Destroyed Two Months After Completion

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The Coralarium contained 30 statues in human form (Photo: Jason deCaires Taylor/Maldives Fairmont)

Jason deCairesTaylor's underwater art installation, 'Coralarium', has been destroyed by the Maldives government just two months after it was opened to the public. Located at the Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi resort, the artwork was ordered for removal as being contrary to Islamic principles by outgoing president Abdullah Yameen.

The Coralarium was hailed as the 'world's first semi-submerged underwater art gallery' and features a six-metre cube constructed from pH neutral materials. The structure acts as a refuge for marine animals and has had coral implanted to form an artificial reef. Thirty sculptures in human form were placed around the cube - some above water, some partially or wholly submerged. It is the human forms that have caused the controversy as they have been labelled as Bhudu - or 'Idols' - by Maldivian clerics.

A court ruling stated that the removal of the Coralarium's statues was required 'to protect the five tenets of Islamic shariah.' as they 'posed a threat to Islamic unity and the peace and interests of the Maldivian state.'

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The six-metre cube is designed as a semi-submerged 'intertidal' artificial reef (Photo: Jason deCaires Taylor/Maldives Fairmont)

According to a report in the Maldives Independent dated 28 July, the decision to remove the sculpture was taken shortly after it was completed. A statement published by the Maldives Independent reads: 'upon receiving information that idols have been put up at Shaviyani Sirru Fenfushi, the president’s office has instructed the ministry of tourism to complete their removal by the end of tomorrow.' A short, English-language statement on the government's website cites 'significant public sentiment against the installation of underwater sculptures.'

Although the directive was issued in July, nothing appears to have been done until Friday 21 September when the work was carried out. Reports suggest that it was a last act of defiance by President Yameen, whose government has been mired in accusations of corruption and bribery since taking power in a coup in 2012. Yameen was ousted by the Democratic Party's Ibrahim Mohamed Solih during national elections on 23 September.

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The human-like statues have been labelled as 'idols' by the Maldivian courts (Photo: Jason deCaires Taylor/Maldives Fairmont)

 deCaires Taylor issued a statement following the artwork's destruction. He said: '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!' said deCaires Taylor. '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.'

Although the 30 statues have been removed from their plinths, the remaining structure was untouched. A statement from the Accor Hotels Group reads: 'While we are very surprised by the removal of eco-art pieces by the authorities, we respect the people, traditions and customs of the Maldives. The removal process was peaceful and friendly without interruption to our world famous service. The Coralarium structure and underwater trees remain intact, ensuring the coral restoration programme remains alive and well. We have initiated immediate reimagination plans with the artist, creating a new underwater gallery that will be in harmony with the locals and environment.'

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