Student Ambassadors Program Overview

The Underwater Museum

“It is named a museum for a simple reason. Every day we dredge, pollute and overfish our oceans, while museums are places of preservation, of conservation, and of education. They are places where we keep objects that have great value to us. Our oceans are sacred.” Jason deCaires Taylor

When most people think of a museum they think of a grand building in a thriving city, full of treasures from the past. The museum spoken about here resides not in a bustling city but on the seabed of sunny Caribbean island of Grenada.

In 2006, the artist Jason deCaires Taylor made the bold decision to take his 75 sculptures underwater to form an ‘ocean floor empire’.  By moving the artwork away from the traditional modes of exhibition, he created an entirely new art-viewing experience for the viewer — one in which they have to physically dive to the ocean floor or take a trip on a glass bottomed boat.

What is most special about these sculptures is not just their submerged location, but that the sculptures themselves act as artificial coral reefs, encouraging the growth of marine life. The artist crafted them from a long-lasting and pH neutral cement that acts as a stable platform on which coral and algae can grow.  This underwater sculpture park was made with the rejuvenation of the coral reefs in mind. Not only do they stimulate growth and re-population, they also draw visitors away from the natural coral reefs, protecting them from any harm that may be inflicted upon them by inexperienced divers.

Inertia, 2011. Jason deCaires Taylor, The Underwater Museum.

Taylor’s work is a social commentary on environmental concerns, as portrayed in his work titled Inertia (2011). He depicts a man lounging on a couch watching TV surrounded by waste and junk food. Taylor here criticises the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans and exposes how this issue is rooted in our consumption habits. The presence of the plastic bottle and fast food shows how, as a society, we are in the habit of developing an unnecessary amount of waste and a certain of percentage of that waste end up in the oceans. It makes us think about the refuse we produce and how we can alter our consumption habits in order to better protect our planet.

Jason deCaires Taylor, The Underwater Museum.

Taylor also intends with these works was to merge art and nature; creating something that can be both at the same time. One viewer understood this intention, posting on social media, ‘how magnificent the way nature, life merges with your creations, becoming more beautiful every passing year.’   The sculptures possess an air of shifting permanence, in that they stay fixed in place at the bottom of the ocean but are slowly transformed by the organisms living on them.

Even though taking his works underwater creates something new and exciting in the world of art, it does come with its issues. The most obvious one being that to view these sculptures one must spend a considerable amount of money — on renting scuba gear and traveling to a remote and expensive tropical island — much more money than one would spend visiting a traditional gallery or museum; the cost adds an air of exclusivity around the work and prevents some from experiencing it.

Although these works may have their issues, it is undeniable that they are not only beautiful sculptures but also serve an actual function within the real world.

Environmental Art developed alongside rising global concerns surrounding the state of the environment’s health and our impacts as humans upon it. Taylor’s work exposes our negative impact on the coral reefs and how we, as a collective, can help restore the ocean’s reefs. While creating artificial eco systems that are repopulating the ocean’s reefs, Taylor’s work also comments on race, politics, and other social issues.

We live in a time where our positive impact on the environment is more crucial than ever; I therefore think pieces like the ones Taylor creates could not be more necessary and relevant. He uses the power of art to raise awareness of the issues our oceans face and draws visitors into the environment in which he is trying to save; spurring them into action. His work leaves you with an admiration of art and the natural world and I truly believe this combination of art and activism is the key to making a difference.

My name is Hannah Stokoe and I am part of the second cohort of Student Ambassadors at the Art Story. I am a postgraduate in Art History with a passion for heritage and museology – I am most interested in the recent measures taken in the museum and heritage sector, to keep our institutions up to date and culturally relevant. An example of this is decolonisation in Museums, a topic that is close to my heart and hopefully one that I can actively participate in as my career develops.