An underwater museum? Yup, Mexico has one.
Mexico’s Underwater Museum, or the “MUSA” is located between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. The Museum was created in 2009 and has since grown to include over 500 sculptures. Originally the museum was created to encourage Coral Reef regrowth by drawing the tourists who dive and snorkel on the reef away from the main area. As well, the sculptures give locations for coral and other sea life to grow and find homes.
There are three main gallery areas in the museum: Manchones, Punta Nizuc and Punta Sam. Manchones gallery contains the most sets of sculptures but is recommended to be viewed through Scuba Diving only. Punta Nizuc can be seen in the largest variety of ways, including snorkeling and glass-bottom boat; but cannot be seen via scuba diving. The best gallery to snorkel at is Punta Sam. Although there is the least number of sculptures in this gallery, it is known to be a Sea Turtle feeding area.
While the museum is intended to be seen from the water, if you don’t feel like getting wet, you can visit the Visitors Center, where there are some replicas of sculptures in the galleries, as well as information on how the sculptures are made and cared for. The museum showcases works from six Mexican artists, but most of the works are by Jason DeCaires Taylor and Elier Amado Gil. The museum offers scuba diving tours leaving from both Cancun and Isla Mujeres and offers options for certified divers as well as beginners.
20 Urban Reef House 1- Jason DeCaires Taylor
The first of two sculptures of houses in the museum is a single-story house with a peaked roof. The roof has a couple of different heights, reflecting the rooms that stick out from some sections of the main house. A chimney is added on to one side of the house and is carved to look like it is made of rocks. There are open windows with shutters and a door into the house which fish can swim through. One wall has long vertical windows as well. The roof appears shingled, but plants now grow on the roof and on the top of the chimney giving the house an almost aged and weathered appearance.
19 Time Bombs – Jason DeCaires Taylor
There are two different time bomb sculptures. The first shows a pair of round bombs created through horizontal layers, similar to a cake. They have short fuse lines coming from the top, suggesting that they are intended to look like they will explode shortly. Between the layers making up the bombs, there are plants and other marine creatures starting to live.
The second of the bomb sculptures shows a spiked sphere, representing a mine. Each of the spikes coming from the sphere has a smaller peg at the end, almost like buttons. The two types of bomb sculptures are located quite close to each other.
18 The Banker – Jason DeCaires Taylor
This exhibit shows a set of five human sculptures, all male, dressed in what looks like business suits. All five men kneel on the ground, with their hands out beside them. They look to be kissing the ground or perhaps praying. Each male is headless, but the position of the sculptures makes the figures appear like their heads are buried in the sand, similar to positions which ostriches are depicted in. The central three figures have briefcases beside them, close to their arms. Two of the cases have cell phones lying on top.
17 The Silent Evolution – Jason DeCaires Taylor
This art installation is a large group of sculptures that depict humans of all ages and genders. Some are standing, while some sit and some appear to be kneeling, perhaps in prayer or surrender. All seem to be looking away from the others closest to them. There is a variety of poses and stances, and some of the figures are fully dressed while others have minimal clothing on.
Some of the women wear headscarves and others appear pregnant. Sea life has started growing from many of the faces and bodies giving further color and texture to the people. Many of the figures have their hands covering their faces and heads, while some reach behind them or twist to the side, and others appear to be in thinking poses.
16 The Anchors – Jason DeCaires Taylor
This is another group of 5 human sculptures, which are lined up in a row but with spaces between them. There is one woman in the center, and two men on either side of her. She is distinctive as a female through her hair pulled into a bun on the back of her head and her softer facial features. They look like full body sculptures as seagrass and other plants grow up to the mid-chest and shoulders of the group. All seem to have their eyes closed and are almost trying to stretch their heads away from the grass. Some of the faces look like they are in some slight pain or discomfort.
One man tilts his head backwards, so his face points up to the surface, as if he were to be feeling the sun on his face!
15 The Dream Collector – Jason DeCaires Taylor
In this piece, a man in a collared shirt and pants stands on a platform and leans against an L shaped cabinet or shelving unit. He looks down to his right where he is writing notes on a pad of paper and appears to be thinking due to the position of his left hand under his chin. On top of the shelves there are some books, a coffee cup and a sphere. Within the shelves, there are rows of various shaped bottles standing upright, held in the shelves by horizontal bars. In front of the man, there is a sleeping dog on the ground.
14 Anthropocene – Jason DeCaires Taylor
This sculpture depicts a Volkswagen Beetle car with circular holes in the windows. Coral and other marine life grow out of the holes and on the surface of the car.
A figure of a man is curled up on the windshield of the car. He appears to be in the fetal position, with one hand draped onto the roof of the car. He hides his face from the viewer, so one sees either his back or his knees and arms. He might be intended to appear sleeping or be possibly trying to remain on the windshield and not slip off the car.
13 Urban Reef House 2 – Jason DeCaires Taylor
Like the urban reef house 1, this house is a single-story house. It is a small triangle-shaped house with the roof overhanging one side, creating an open space. The house has fewer features compared to the first, but it does have a large open doorway. As well there is a tile mosaic element on one side of the house, using blue and red tiles. The house does not have a chimney or any additional rooms sticking off the main section.
Like the first house, the roof on house 2 has plenty of plant growth. This house looks eerier compared to house 1, mainly due to there being fewer windows and openings.
12 The Gardener of Hope – Jason DeCaires Taylor
In this work, a female figure lies on her stomach with her head in her hands looking at some pots and plants in front of her. She appears to be a female due to the ponytail of hair at the back of her head, as well, she is in a dress. Her feet are crossed behind her and there is a watering can beside her. Other pots and plants are near her feet and around the slab that she lies on, all of which have pieces of coral growing from the tops. On the surface of the slab she lies on, there is a design of blue and white tiles with blue flowers on it.
11 Inheritance – Jason DeCaires Taylor
A small boy sits on an upside-down bucket wearing shorts and Crocs-style shoes but no shirt. He looks somewhat sad, and has his head tilted downward and looking at the ground. The boy has his hands crossed over his lap too. The platform he is on is carved to look like a tile floor, similar to that of a kitchen.
In front of the boy on the floor is a pile of garbage which seems to be mostly bottles and other empty containers. Given that the title of this work is Inheritance, the pile might imply that the empty bottles and other garbage is all that the boy is left with.
10 Reclamation – Jason DeCaires Taylor
In this work, a woman is kneeling but keeps the rest of her body upright. Her arms are above her head and her back arches, so her torso and head are leaning backwards. She has her face tilted upwards towards the surface, the same direction as her hands point. Her hair is fairly long and hangs loosely down her back.
The sculpture has large fan-shaped plants affixed to it, mainly on her arms and her back. Due to the shape of the plants, they almost resemble wings, particularly butterfly type wings.
9 The last supper – Jason DeCaires Taylor
In this detailed work, a table stands on a platform with two plates of food, cutlery and a bowl of fruit laid on top. The plates of food are at either head of the table, with a set of cutleries laid out beside each plate. It almost looks as if the table is waiting for its diners to come and sit down to eat. The bowl of fruit in the center of the table holds a small pyramid of fruits, mainly apples. There are also a couple of hand grenades put into the fruit bowl.
Marine life has started to grow on the plates and on the fruit in the fruit bowl, as well as on the table itself. Some other sculptural details under the table and beside one of the legs, but due to the plant growth it is hard to distinguish details.
8 Threshold – Elier Amado Gil
This piece depicts a large stone archway, with a pointed top, similar to those found in eastern architecture. Standing upright and very straight underneath the arch is a woman, naked except for a pair of underwear. She holds her arms against the sides of her body and her hands rest against the outside of her thighs. Her hair is pulled back behind her head and she keeps her eyes closed, but her mouth is slightly open. She looks to be waiting for something but appears to be peaceful and not on edge.
7 Understanding – Elier Amado Gil
This exhibit contains six sculptures, all of nude men arranged in a circle. The men sit cross-legged with their hands resting on their shins. Each man has his head bowed, and his eyes closed. Their facial expressions remain neutral, which combined with the positioning, makes the men appear to be meditating. In the centre of the circle, there is a hemispherical table with a jagged pointy sculpture placed on the flat portion of the table. There is no further detail on the jagged element in the center of the circle, so what it is intended to represent is unclear.
6 No Title – Elier Amado Gil
This sculpture depicts a male standing on a circular platform. The man stands with his feet apart and one hand resting beside his thigh. His other hand is raised beside his head, with two of his fingers imitating a gun, pressed against his temple. He is somewhat muscular and nude.
He faces forward, with his head held high and his eyes open, but he seems to lack emotion. His pose, with the exception of the finger-gun, is reminiscent of classical Greek and Roman bronze and marble sculptures.
5 Blessings – Elier Amado Gil
This work is made up of six sculptures of large hands, arranged in a circle. Each of the hands holds up two fingers, in a blessing style, similar to the depictions of John the Baptist blessing Christ in Renaissance paintings.
The palms of each hand face outward, as if the blessing is directed at whoever is outside the circle. The hands are all identical. There a couple of holes carved into each hand, creating places for sea creatures to hide. As this work is one of only two in the Punta Sam gallery of the Museum, it is particularly striking.
4 Bacab – Salvador Quiroz Ennis
This installation is more abstract, and the viewer can interpret the piece in many ways. It is a three-dimensional piece that rises from the ocean floor. The shape from the top appears almost as a turtle with short legs and a strangely shaped head, or as a cartoon skull-and-crossbones with an elongated jaw. There are six cutouts on the top of the piece, which are various quadrilateral shapes. The sides of the piece are an open grid design, but it is unclear if these openings continue through the sculpture or are just small niches on the exterior.
3 Seascape I-III – Karen Salinas Martinez
There are three different installations by Martinez, each titled as a Seascape. All three have similar elements, but with some slight changes to the overall shapes and compositions. The first two seascapes each have a circular archway that can be swam through by fish and humans. These openings have decorated bases attaching them to the ocean floor.
The third of the seascapes is different, as it is a square shape that sits parallel to the ocean floor rather than perpendicular like the other two. Rather than appearing as something to swim through, the third seascape seems to appear as benches to be sat on. There are carvings on the surface of the seascape elements as well.
2 Biomap - Rodrigo Quinones Reyes
This sculpture set is slightly more abstract compared to the others in the museum. The piece is comprised of a handful of sculptures which resemble rock piles from a distance. When seen from up closer, the piles look like small huts or even gazebos. Most of these piles are topped with a pointed pyramid shape, but a couple have hemispherical tops.
Due to the abstractness of this installation, each viewer is able to create a completely unique interpretation of the work. Given that the title of the work is Biomap, the artist might have intended for the work to be mainly viewed from above.
1 Ocean Muse – Roberto Diaz Abraham
This work has a sculpture of a woman, from her upper thighs to her head. Her arms are crossed in front of her chest and her head tilts downwards but to the side slightly. Her hair is pulled behind her head and she has her eyes closed, giving her a look of peacefulness and serenity. She could appear to be in prayer but does not have her hands clasped together in a typical prayer position.
Numerous plants and coral grow off of her now, which gives an almost mystical appearance to the work.