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Michigan State University Museum Launches Largest International Exhibit
The Michigan State University Museum’s largest international exhibit to date, “MASK: Secrets and Revelations” features 240 masks, many of which are on public display for the first time. Photo: G.L. Kohuth, MSU.
EAST LANSING, MI.- In its largest international and multimedia exhibit ever, the Michigan State University Museum has put on display 240 masks, ranging in size from a few inches to 7 feet.

“MASK: Secrets and Revelations” explores issues of spirituality, self identity, power and authority, human rites of passage and the place of people in nature, said Gary Morgan, MSU Museum director. It will run until Jan. 22, 2012, in the Main Gallery.

Shortly after arriving at the museum in 2009, Morgan was struck by the diversity and depth of the museum’s mask collection. So after sitting in storage for many years, most of the masks are now making their first public appearance.

“We have a very significant collection,” Morgan said. “It’s an asset to the museum and to MSU, but only if it’s used for research and/or public education. In fact, we need to be rolling out more and more of our collections over time.”

The masks aren’t organized by country or cultural group, but instead by “dialogs” or “blendings,” where cultures and themes come together, he said. Nor are the masks primitive, but rather works of art that reflect complex societies and often sophisticated religions and forms of faith.

There are masks that portray the battle between good and evil – including a dialog on devils and a popular media section featuring Spiderman and Batman masks. There are masks of work and war and there’s a life-size fully costumed model of a Ku Klux Klan member, for a section addressing power, threat and authority. Add to that Spartan sports helmets and two Sparty mascots.

In addition to the artifacts themselves, the museum is presenting its most ambitious multimedia suite, including touch screens with a digital catalog and a dedicated media space featuring interactive elements created by MSU students.

“The exhibit is a backbone to a program that will run for a year,” Morgan said. “We wanted MASK to be a complex program of diverse and thought-provoking components that would complement and expand upon the central exhibition. The successful exhibit or museum program is one where people leave the building thinking, ‘I want to know more.’”

Take the first companion exhibit “Radiation Mask Series” by Swedish photographer Magnus Westerborn. Making its U.S. debut, the installation features nine near-life-size photos of radiation masks taken in 2009 and 2010. Each radiation mask, molded to a specific person’s face, is used in the treatment of a variety of head cancers.

“This is an emotionally haunting series of images,” said Howard Bossen, adjunct photography curator for the museum and professor of journalism. “I think the intersection of art and medicine is extremely powerful. So I hope ‘Radiation Mask Series’ begins a lengthy discussion on campus and in the community around the intersection of photography and health care.”

Hopefully, MASK will become an important part of MSU’s Creativity Initiative, launched this fall as a multidisciplinary research project, Morgan said.

Morgan also plans to connect with schools and to host a series of essays and poems about the role of masks in people’s lives.



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