Oct. 12, 2010 -- This collection of more than 200 sculptures will make up part of an extraordinary -- and functional -- work of art for an underwater museum exhibit off the coast of Mexico.
Known as The Museo Subacuático de Arte de Cancún (MUSA), this project is designed to be an engaging attraction for both tourists and sea creatures alike.
Founded by Jaime Gonzalez Cano, director of Isla Mujeres National Park, and Roberto Diaz Abraham, president of the Cancun Nautical Association, this underwater sculpture exhibit will also serve as an artificial coral reef.
The project is intended to alleviate pressure on nearby natural reefs by drawing the attention of the hundreds of thousands of tourists that arrive every year to the national park.
The sculptures are found at the National Marine Park (Parque Nacional Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún and Punta Nizuc) on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.
James deCaires Taylor, the British sculptor responsible for creating the entire collection of statues, used real subjects to craft the wide variety of faces and expressions.
The subjects range in age, size and occupation. Above, we see a statue of an 85-year-old nun named Rosario.
There are already 350 sculptures anchored within this underwater museum. By the time the project is finished, 400 statues will make up the artificial coral reef.
Made with a special cement, sand and fiberglass, each piece must be carefully lowered from the surface to the sea floor about 10 meters (33 feet) below.
A fusion of science and art, this collection underscores the interplay between humans and the environment.
This sculpture, called "Hombre en Llamas" ("Man on Fire"), was cast from a local Mexican fisherman. "(The man is) on fire yet unaware of his situation, highlighting our dependence on -- and overuse of -- our limited natural resources," Taylor noted.
Man on Fire was one of the first three sculptures installed in the exhibit in November 2009.
The artist chose human subjects for his collection to highlight mankind's interaction with nature in a positive light.
This sculpture, "El Coleccionista de los Sueños Perdidos" ("The Archive of Lost Dreams"), depicts a male record-keeper who maintains an underwater archive. Below his desk are bottled filled with messages.
"(The letters) document contemporary values and aspirations for future generations to discover," Taylor explained.
Once completed, the work will become one of the largest -- and certainly one of the most ambitious -- artificial underwater attractions worldwide.
The total exhibit will cover an area of over 4,500 square feet and weigh nearly 200 tons.
This sculpture is known as "La Jardinera de la Esperanza" ("The Gardener of Hope"). Located four meters (13 feet) below the surface, the figure of a young girl is surrounded by potted plants, which are actually coral.
The status is symbolic of revitalization and offers a symbol for future generations.
The team is currently working to install the last sculptures before the exhibit's grand opening.
The museum's complete underwater exhibit officially opens Nov. 27.
Once all of the sculptures have been installed, local and international artists will take over for the final phase of the project, adding their own touches to the exhibit as well as hosting special events.