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Michigan State University Museum Presents MASK Secrets and Revelations

The Michigan State University Museum presents a special exhibition, “MASK: Secrets and Revelations,” on view now through January 22, 2012 in the Main Gallery, that will put many of its global collections on public display for the first time.

“The MSU Museum has a rich and diverse mask collection, and over 200 of them will be part of MASK, ” says Gary Morgan, director of the Museum. “Masks are both works of art and powerful statements about cultures and human behaviors.”

MASK, the exhibit, explores issues of spirituality, perceptions of self- identity, power and authority, human rites of passage, and the place of people in nature, as well as masks in sport and war, and in the popular media. There will be life and death masks, and masks that simply reflect the desire of people to have a good time. Masks are a universal part of the human experience.

“Whatever its shape and whatever its purpose, the mask changes the face, makes it stronger, exaggerates the features or conceals what the face would otherwise reveal — perhaps our true intent, perhaps our frailty as human beings,” observes Gary Morgan, MSU Museum director and the exhibit curator.

“Ultimately, ‘MASK: Secrets and Revelations’ is about identity and perception – how we perceive ourselves, how we want others to perceive us, and how we perceive those around us,” Morgan says.

Ideas and artifacts
In other words, the exhibit is as much about ideas as it is about the artifacts themselves, he adds. The intent is not to document in detail how different cultures make masks, or to catalog the many purposes of masks.

“Certainly, the masks reflect an extraordinary array of forms, colors and media. Each is a work of art in its own right. More than distinguishing one mask from another, the exhibit asks us to look at ourselves in the masks, and in so doing, to consider our humanity,” says Morgan.

“MASK: Secrets and Revelations” runs through Jan. 22, 2012 and will be presented with a series of companion exhibits and programs, many of which are experimental and new directions for the MSU Museum – including poetry, photography, performance and digital media co-produced with MSU faculty and students.

“MASK is based on a variety of cross-campus collaborations. We wanted the exhibit and related programs to actively involve faculty and students – as contributors and as participants,” explains Morgan.

Masks and medicine, poetry, more
The first of these companion exhibits shows the intersection of medicine and art:, and a highly specialized type of mask: the “Radiation Series,” by Swedish photographer Magnus Westerborn. The black-and-white photographs show the personalized masks created for patients being treated for cancer of the head and neck, where the mask helps stabilize and pinpoint the intense radiation delivery. That exhibition, developed by adjunct curator Howard Bossen, professor of Journalism, runs through May 2011. Bossen will follow up with another photographic exhibit of carnival masks later in the year.

Also of note: a poetry workshop and public presentation on Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m., developed with the Center for Poetry in the MSU Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. Learn more about MASK programs at

With the yearlong process developing the large-scale “MASK” exhibit, the MSU Museum is also expanding its offerings to include additional materials digitally, both in the gallery and online, so visitors have the opportunity to learn about the history, culture and meaning of the collections. This exhibition will also mark the first time the MSU Museum uses QR codes, so smart phone user can scan images and then find supplemental content. The focus on the mask collections also gave museum staff the opportunity to conduct research, update files and monitor the condition of its holdings.

Primary funding for “MASK: Secrets and Revelations” is from the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, the Asian Studies Center and the African Studies Center. The Museum Store also features wearable masks and other exhibit-related items.

The MSU Museum is Michigan’s natural science and culture museum and the state’s first Smithsonian Institution affiliate. The MSU Museum features three floors of special collections and changing exhibits and is open seven days a week free of charge (donations are encouraged). Located on West Circle Drive next to Beaumont Tower on the MSU campus, the MSU Museum is accessible to persons with disabilities. Hours are Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. -5 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Visitor parking is available in front of the building and at metered spaces at the Grand River Ramp, one block away at the corner of Grand River Avenue and Charles Street. For more information, call (517) 355-2370 or see

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