It could be argued that Jason deCaires Taylor, British sculptor, environmentalist, photographer, and creator of MUSAN, rightfully deserves to be titled a “pioneer” for his development of the world’s first underwater sculpture park–and the many others he constructed afterwards.
It’s me. I’m the one arguing this claim.
Born to be the only son of Englishman, Roy Taylor, in the town of Dover (located in South East England), Jason deCaires Taylor has been an avid scuba diver since he was just eighteen years old–earning the license of a fully qualified instructor back in 2002. With a passion for art and a deep love for the sea, he, like most great artists, has tactfully managed to combine his two great loves into his own personal artform–an artform that he graciously shares with the rest of the world.
Taylor has singlehandedly entwined the timeless beauty of human artworks on land with the unknown wonders of the sea not only once, and not even only twice, but several times–with the MUSAN (formally known as The Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa) being his most recent underwater project.
Once a barren stretch of sand, the underwater beaches off the coast of Pernera now boast of 93 intricately-crafted, sunken sculptures, providing an upscale (and expensively designed) habitat for the already present, as well as incoming, aquatic life. The marine life here, whose Extreme Home Makeover totaled to over $1.1 million, can roam across more than 550 feet of seabed sand belonging to the Mediterranean Sea.
On an unnamed road in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, MUSAN is the newest attraction to this isolated paradise. This underwater forest, which opened to the public at the beginning of August 2021, offers more than 130 figural, as well as botanical, sculptures, and is accessible only to divers, snorkelers, and the vast aquatic life present within the waters. Not just an art exhibit, but a story about the sea in which it resides, MUSAN tells a tale of both wonder and fear to both its in-person museum frequenters and avid online followers (@ myself) alike.
The Republic of Cyprus
Known to those affluent in the diving community as an island of wreckage, the country of Cyprus lies, untouched, in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, just south of Turkey. With an economy that is majorly fueled by tourism, the transcontinental country of Cyprus was greatly affected by the recent COVID-19 pandemic–halting travel and, in turn, the established tourism that The Republic of Cyprus survives and thrives upon.
Not only is the environmental impact of MUSAN assisting in reef reforestation as well as the rebuilding of marine ecosystems, but the economic impact of this new tourist attraction is also aiding the crippling economic state of this small islet–a region that has been greatly impoverished for some time now.
This immersive experience, brought to us by the ingenious mind of Jason deCaries Taylor, is open to the general public, allowing them to dive or snorkel through the vast exhibit below them–an exhibit that is both visually appealing and intellectually stimulating for those who choose to further understand and empathize with the important message Taylor is depicting in this submerged display of fine art.
Meet the Artist
With his art, Taylor strives to spread environmental awareness as well as a better appreciation for the beauty already present amongst the land-dwellers of our planet.
Born in 1974, this unique artist learned sculpture-work from the London Institute of Arts, graduating in 1998. First gaining popularity back in 2006 for his hand in creating the world’s first underwater sculpture park, Jason deCaries Taylor has been recognized as a trusted ally for marine conservation and a respected advocate for artistic environmental activism everywhere.
Equally adored and celebrated for his hand in creating some of the most dynamic and elaborate underwater art forms, Taylor is no stranger to praise–be it in the form of receiving national awards, online recognition, or run-of-the-mill articles that boast profusely of his ingenuity and passion (articles like this one.)
In February of 2020, he, along with three other outstanding individuals, were recognized by the Grenadian government’s National Honours and Heroes Committee for their distinguished environmental impact on Grenada at the 2020 Grenada Independence Day celebrations. Awarded the Most Distinguished Order of the Nation, the nation of Grenada chose to recognize this cherished artist for his work in creating the world’s first underwater sculpture park on the coastline of the Caribbean Sea: the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park.
But his invention of the world’s first underwater sculpture park is not to be confused with his development of the world’s first underwater museum: craftily named the Cancun Underwater Museum, or Museo Subacuático de Arte. Totalling around 500 sculptures, most of them crafted by the hand of Jason deCaires Taylor himself, this underwater exhibit consists of three separate galleries, all submerged within the Cancun National Marine Park. Aligning with the work of his other prominent pieces, Museo Subacuático de Arte highlights the importance of coral reef preservation: Taylor has managed to incorporate live coral cuttings rescued from areas of damaged reef into his individual works. This iconic exhibit, the first of its kind, opened to the public in November of 2010.
By 2014, Jason had hand-sculpted and meticulously placed over 700 sculptures across the world–including one of his most distinguished pieces, Ocean Atlas, a 60 ton sculpture of a young Bahamian girl who is depicted to be carrying the weight of the ocean. Constantly utilizing his innate ability to create metaphorical and meaningful art pieces, it is no question that Jason deCaries Taylor pulls inspiration from pop culture, mythological tales, and current events to craft his works–Ocean Atlas being one of his most notable works inspired from Greek mythology. This piece, a salute to the mythological story of the Greek Titan, Atlas, secured our artist a Guinness World Record for his piece being the largest figurative underwater sculpture on the globe. The Rising Tide, Jason’s first tidal installation in London, is another of his works based off tall-tale inspiration; it is argued that his inspiration for The Rising Tide is based off the story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
In January of 2017, a second underwater art museum (located this time in Playa Blanca, a town on the island of Lanzarote, Spain) also opened at the hands of Jason deCaries Taylor. The Museo Atlántico, Europe’s only underwater museum, boasts of more than 300 of Jason’s works, including The Rubicon. Sitting atop the seabed just 1,000 ft off the shoreline, the artwork placed along the Atlantic Ocean floor is designed as a huge artificial reef in an effort to help sustain the already present (and future) aquatic life.
In 2019, Jason deCaires Taylor also completed two eco-friendly art installations for the Great Barrier Reef. One of those pieces, Ocean Siren, commissioned by the Australian Museum of Underwater Art (or MOUA), was fashioned with the idea in mind of Ocean Siren acting as a warning sign for the inevitable climate change upon us. Reacting to the data captured by the Davies Reef Weather Station nearby, Ocean Siren, an illuminated sculpture similar in its appearance to the American Statue of Liberty, changes color to represent the fluctuation of the daily average water temperature.
Within that same 2019 year, our beloved artist also formed The Coral Greenhouse, his third, but definitely not his final, underwater museum. The Coral Greenhouse is the largest of all the MOUA installations, located in the center of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Each and every aspect of Jason deCaires Taylor’s exhibits are carried out with a purpose: he utilizes location to redirect tourists from nearby natural reefs, he incorporates meaningful messages and eye-opening metaphors into his sculptures to educate those around him, and he conscientiously builds his enticing, underwater exhibits in places that need his environmental expertise the most.
He intentionally designs his individual pieces and overall exhibits to be both daunting and mystifying, often capturing the cruel realities of life above water and smartly placing them in a newly submerged environment. Unlike most art, which is kept behind protective glass or watchful security, Jason deCaires Taylor’s creations are meant to be altered–by aquatic life, that is. His works encourage organisms to grow upon, live within, and peacefully reside amidst the pH-neutral cement substance that, over time, will evolve his works from concrete structures to living artificial reefs.
In a 2010 interview, the artist claimed that, in his many works, he was “trying to portray how human intervention or interaction with nature can be positive and sustainable, an icon of how we can live in a symbiotic relationship with nature” (Pavone, 2010).
Showcasing his environmentally-friendly art in places like the Bahamas, Grenada, London, Australia, Norway, and Mexico (just to name a few), it can easily be deduced that this artist uses his niche skill set for the benefit of the greater good–not just in his own home country of England, but all across the Earth.
A notable TED talk speaker, a member of The Royal Society of Sculptors, and recipient of numerous honorable awards–both for his intricate sculpting as well as for his work in photography–it is clear that there is no other artist quite like Jason deCaries Taylor.
Made from a pH-neutral cement that helps to facilitate coral growth, all of Taylor’s pieces (not just in MUSAN) are friendly to aquatic life. Through his one-of-a-kind sculptures, he explores both the relationships between people and nature, while also shedding light on important environmental issues such as climate crisis and habitat loss.
MUSAN, said to be a sub-aquatic experience like no other, was designed by this British sculpturist in hopes that it would inspire the public that “human impact isn’t always negative” (CNN Travel, 2021). Taylor has placed his artwork ever so carefully to contribute to the development of biodiversity within this particular area of the Mediterranean Sea. He hopes to draw attention to the importance of preserving fragile ecosystems, noting the negative impact of deforestation, as well as by calling attention to human action–more specifically, how human action affects our planet.
Despite their beauty, these sunken statues were invented with more than just the intention of being visually pleasing. According to this talented artist, after some time, the marine life found among this submerged exhibit will eventually convert this museum into their natural habitat. Placed on the ocean floor with a large crane, these pH neutral sculptures within MUSAN can weigh up to 13 tons; and since these pieces have no negative impact on the surrounding environment, public swimmers can have peace of mind when infiltrating the elegance of the Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa on their next visit to Cyprus.
MUSAN: Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa
Jason deCaries Taylor, who is also responsible for the Molinere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park in Grenada and Mexico’s Isla Mujeres National Marine Park, has–once again–mystified lovers of art everywhere with his newest, environmentally-impactful exhibit.
Built in the marine protected area of Pernera, Jason deCaires Taylor fashioned MUSAN in joint collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Ayia Napa municipality.
Irineos and Calypso, gatekeepers of this underwater experience, stand side-by-side at the entrance of the Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa. Their importance lies in both marking the beginning of the exhibit and as another one of Jason’s notorious metaphors: each placed atop their own pillar, they are depicted as two children pledging to help protect the sea.
Entering this submarine forest from the shoreline, museum-goers will have open access to 170 meters of explorable water from entrance to exit, seeing sculptures of up to eight meters tall–all by Jason deCaries Taylor’s novel design.
Open to tourists and natives alike, MUSAN welcomes all lovers of art–and aquatic life! Available to dive or snorkel upon registration, anyone with the proper diving certification can experience the wonders of this environmentally-friendly, sub-aquatic adventure.
In the first year of their opening, MUSAN does not charge a fee for visiting their immersive underwater experience; however, the price for their included diving schools (and the necessary knowledge said schools will teach you) is not without charge. Please also keep in mind that booking in advance is required. MUSAN and their affiliated diving schools will provide you with the proper equipment for your experience, but they advise that the water temperature of this exhibit varies depending on season–so if you are warm-blooded like myself, keep in mind the time of year when scheduling your trip to Cyprus.
Sure to be a treasured tourist attraction for years to come, I know that I’ll be adding a visit to Jason deCaires Taylor’s MUSAN to my own bucket list. So, if this article has piqued your interest as much as it has my own, you can learn more about the Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa and how to book your own trip by visiting their website.
Pavone, P (21 June 2010). “An Interview with Underwater Sculptor Jason DeCaires Taylor”. Scribol. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
Hardingham-Gill, T. (2021, August 17). The underwater forest growing in the med. CNN. Retrieved March 5, 2022, from http://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/inside-museum-of-underwater-sculpture-in-cyprus/index.html