The French town of Cannes has a new underwater art museum, which aims to protect and provide refuge for marine life. Located off the Île Sainte Marguerite, it consists of six sculptures of mask-wearing faces, each over six feet tall.

It took four years for British underwater artist's Jason deCaires Taylor to create the sculptures, which form his first installation in the Mediterranean. It comprises portraits of locals, ranging from an 80-year-old local fisherman to a nine-year-old primary school student. The sculptures are situated at a depth of up to 3m and weigh around 12 tons each. As well as creating a fascinating new diving spot in the area, it is hoped they may help to attract flora and fauna.

The masks relate to the history of the island, which was where the "Man with the Iron Mask" was imprisoned in the late 17th century. They also relate to modern debates about identity, public persona and what lies behinds the exterior. Prior to them being placed underwater, old marine infrastructure, garbage, old pipes and cables had to be removed from the area.

The sculptures were floated to the site by boat and were placed into position by divers with the help of cranes. Now that they are in place, snorkelers and divers can swim among the sculptures without paying an entrance fee.

A diver working on a sculpture at the Cannes Underwater Museum
Each sculpture is created using non-toxic, pH neutral cement © Jason deCaires Taylor

Taylor has created underwater installations all over the world, and his artworks are essentially artificial reefs. Each sculpture is created using non-toxic, pH neutral cement, that is free from harmful pollutants. They are designed to become an integral part of the local ecosystem.

The marine grade cement is highly durable, with a rough texture that encourages coral larvae to attach and thrive. There are also nooks and dark cubbyholes formed of folds of clothing to provide homes for fish and crustaceans. Jason deCaires Taylor's projects can be viewed on his website here.

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