One is reminded of the mysterious stone heads on Easter Island and the terracotta warriors unearthed in China, but the underwater sculptures unveiled at Mexico’s Cancun Marine Park last week are brand new. British artist Jason de Caires Taylor made 400 life-size statues, casts from molds of real people, from an 85-year-old nun to a three-year-old boy. Then the concrete figures were sunk in shallow water that could be seen by divers, snorkelers and from glass-bottom boats.
What is billed as the world’s first underwater museum is unsettling yet mesmerizing to view. Its purpose isn’t purely art for art’s sake. Coral reefs, especially in clear tropical waters, are a major tourist attraction. The Cancun Marine Park draws more than 750,000 visitors per year, and continuous contact with the reefs damages the delicate coral system. Taylor, who is the founder and artistic director of Museo Subacuatico del Arte (MUSA), saw his “Silent Evolution” underwater exhibit as a way to use art in the service of environmental conservation. By creating a new tourist attraction, the goal is to relieve stress on the natural coral reefs to give them time to regenerate and grow, while offering tourists something unique and amazing to explore.