Deep Dive into Europe’s First Underwater Museum, Museo Atlántico

Swim through art installations which double up as homes to marine creatures.  
Museo Atlantico in Canary islands
Since the installation of sculptures at Museo Atlántico in February 2016, there has been a 200 per cent increase in aquatic biomass in the steadily growing artificial reef. Photo Courtesy: Jason deCaires Taylor/Cact Lanzarote

Deep in the Atlantic Ocean, on the southern coast of Canary Islands’ Lanzarote island, lies an artist’s creation amid the waters’ aquatic inhabitants. The Museo Atlántico is British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor’s brainchild, one that took three years to complete. Its exhibits made with pH-neutral cement are not only a comment on worldly affairs but in due time will also create an artificial reef.

Visitors to this Bahía de Las Coloradas (Colorados Bay) attraction have the choice of snorkelling or diving 40 feet to view this underwater world. Spread over 2,500 square feet, the museum has 12 exhibits comprising about 300 figures. Every installation, from “Los Jolateros”, which shows small boys on flimsy brass boats—a comment on the fragile future of the world’s children­—to “Disconnected,” a portrayal of our unhealthy connection with gadgets, makes a strong statement.

Hidden within the poignant works are little details that will aid in bringing to life the artificial reef. “The Portal” is an installation of a half- human, half-animal figure looking into a mirror-like surface that the artist imagines to be an entry to a different world.

Statue in Museo Atlantico

Spread over 2,500 square feet, the museum has 12 exhibits comprising about 300 figures.
Photo Courtesy: Jason deCaires Taylor/ Cact Lanzarote

Holding up the mirror is a platform created by supports that have little nooks which can be home to sea urchins, octopus, and small fish. It sits in the middle of what is known as the “Hybrid Garden,” a collection of cacti-shaped sculptures. The pyre of sticks in “Immortal,” also creates little pockets making it suitable habitat for marine biomass. The man lying atop the pyre is made from the cast of a local fisherman.

The local community has been closely involved in the making of Museo Atlántico. Many volunteered to have themselves used as casts for the figures used in the artwork. In fact, the centrepiece of the museum, an installation of 35 figures, is made using casts of locals. Named “Crossing the Rubicón,” it shows this group of people walking towards a wall in the middle of the ocean. Another sculpture is a circular pile of 200 life-size figures, known as “The Human Gyre.” It is a dramatic piece of work that evolves from the idea that all life, including humans, originated in the ocean. It also embodies the vulnerability of the human race when faced with the full force and power of the ocean. To some, it could also mean that in the conservation of oceans they see life coming to a full circle—you protect what gave you life. Museo Atlántico leaves lasting images in the mind of a visitor swimming away from this underwater world to the one above the waves.

ESSENTIALS

Museo Atlántico is located off the coast of Bahía de Las Coloradas (Colorados Bay) in the Spanish territory of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. To visit the underwater museum, one must sign up with a certified diving company (www.cactlanzarote.com; diving hours Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-6 p.m; snorkellers €8/ Rs 550, divers €12/ Rs 825).

  • Rumela Basu is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. Her favourite kind of travel involves food, literature, dance and forests. She travels not just to discover new destinations but also aspects of herself.

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