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Words Louis Parks     Photography Jason Decaires Taylor / Cact Lanzarote

A remarkable collection of underwater sculptures highlights the dangers that are faced by the sea, those who travel upon it, and humankind’s interaction with this most pristine and important element of our environment. Opened in February, the collection forms the main attraction at a new Spanish museum.

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Designed by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, a sculptor and diver, the sculptures constitute the main body of work that is featured at the new Museo Atlantico, located off the coast of Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain. A surreal, haunting portrayal of people in various states of apathy or distress, along with everyday scenes, the collection deals with a number of pressing environmental and social issues. Lying in clear blue waters off Las Coloradas Bay in Lanzarote, and sitting 14 meters below the surface, the museum will be accessible to all, amateur divers, snorkelers, and professionals alike. The pieces are all made from high density, PH-neutral concrete that will not harm the local environment in any way, and the material has been used before in works in the Bahamas and the Antilles.

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Plight of the refugees

Perhaps the most famous piece in the collection is the Raft of Lampedusa. An artistic portrayal of the refugee crisis that is currently dominating news of the Mediterranean area, the raft references French painter Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of Medusa. The harrowing theme of abandonment and desperation comes through clearly in the faces and body language of the refugees, and their hopelessness is quite apparent. Intended as a stark warning rather than as a memorial, the piece is sure to open your eyes to the refugee’s plight.

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A second highlight of the collection is The Rubicon. In this piece, over 30 people are portrayed almost sleepwalking forward, into an uncertain future, on the cusp of moving through a portal to another place, or world. The Rubicon is deCaires Taylor’s way of showing us that we are blissfully ambivalent toward the fate of the world’s seas, and that if we don’t take action, we risk destroying this rich, vital natural resource.

Alongside deCaires Taylor’s stunning pieces, the museum will also feature an artificial reef, the large volume of which will attract local fish and help to restore a damaged ecosystem surrounding images of human folly. The project is funded by the local government, and it will also be home to an underwater botanical garden, all of which are part of an area designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. A remarkable look into the power of art on both an ecological and social level, Taylor’s work is indeed very powerful.

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The Rubicon is deCaires Taylor’s way of

showing us that we are blissfully ambivalent toward

the fate of the world’s seas