“ On Death and Horses and Other People,” the Michigan
State University Museum’s new show within “Mask: Secrets and
Revelations” features photos of masked attendees at the Masopust
carnival in Roztoky, Czechoslovakia. The photographer, Prague native
Markéta Luskacová, was in town last week to see the final display,
after leaving the arrangement to MSU photography curator and longtime
friend Howard Bossen.
“You can destroy or create an exhibition without proper
sequencing,” Luskacová said. “It’s very difficult to decide what
picture goes where and how it connects with the next one.
“I’ve done very many exhibitions all over the world, but
when I came to the show, I thought, ‘This is it.’ It’s an immensely
Bossen and Luskacová met nearly 30 years ago when the
curator traveled to the United Kingdom to plan a photojournalism
study-abroad program. The photographer has been involved with the
program ever since. Her main projects, however, have involved
“I loved how fascinated children are by masks — how they
gained the identity of mask they put on, how much they enjoyed the fear
and the fascination,” she said. “It all was very interesting to me.”
When the museum decided to do a year-long exhibition on masks, Bossen immediately thought of Luskacová’s Masopust collection.
“It was the perfect project at the perfect time,” he said.
Due to space and budget restrictions, the pair were forced to choose 60 out of Luskacová’s favorite 120 photos.
“We have two very different perspectives,” Bossen said.
“Markéta has an investment with not only the image, but the
relationships with the subjects over the years. As the curator I only
have an investment in the images. I don’t know the people. I don’t love
them the way Markéta loves them.”
The photographer is best known for her black and white images, but the exhibition is primarily in color.
“Many photographers give back to the people they
photograph, so Markéta started to take some images in color as a
memento to give to people,” Bossen said. “It ended up two very much
interrelated parallel explorations.
“The subject may be the same, but the aesthetic becomes
different. Something that works in color might not work as well in
black and white, and vice versa. The accomplishment of producing two
strong bodies of work is a testament to Markéta’s skill.”
In an essay from 2010, Bossen wrote, “It is especially
lovely to see the transformation that takes place as Luskacová visually
dances between her comfortable black and white aesthetic and her new
color world; where darkness is eclipsed by color, light and joy, where
carnival is seen not only as a return to ritual, but as an affirmation
of life itself.”
The carnival represents the
long-standing clash between communism and religion in the Czech
Republic. But the images aren’t meant to evoke any particular emotion.
“You can never avoid that people bring
in their own experience and their own understanding,” Luskacová said.
“I cannot say that I want them to feel this or that. It would be naïve
or arrogant of me. Once you send the pictures out, they are like
children. I hope people understand the poetry and beauty of it.”
Death represents the Communist attempt
to ban the carnival, as well as the end of one year and beginning of
the next. The horses represent a symbol of new life and the power of
Luskacová unintentionally stumbled upon her title as she was describing her pictures to someone.
“He said, ‘Tell me what they are about.’ I said, ‘Well,
they are of death, and of horses, and of other people.’ And he said,
‘You have the title.’”
’Of Death and Horses and Other People’
Through Jan. 18
Michigan State University Museum
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10
a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday; closed on University holidays
and holiday weekends.
Admission to the Museum is free; there is a suggested donation of $5 for adults.