About the research

Curated by:

  • María José Monge, Visual Arts Curator of the MBCCR
  • Priscilla Molina, Archaeology Curator of the MBCCR

What makes us think of death? Does it stalk us every day or do we defy it? Could one speak of a good death? How do we confront the “here”? How do we conceive an “afterlife,” if there is one?

Inescapable Death, the latest exhibition of the Museums of the Central Bank of Costa Rica (MBCCR as per its acronym in Spanish), seeks to elicit answers to these and many other questions. In it, death is represented in archaeological objects, religious visual art, Costa Rican works of art, historical photographs, and images from the media and entertainment industries.

The exhibit, which opened on February 19, is the result of visual research by the Visual Arts and Archaeology Curators of the Central Bank Museums. Throughout the tour, representations of death in Costa Rican history entwine, ranging from pre-Columbian times (300 BC) up to the present.

Our starting point that death is a peculiar, dynamic, and complex social construct serves as a cue to invite the general public to reflect upon a topic that is intrinsic and natural in humanity, and yet at the same time unexplainable and ambiguous,” asserts María José Monge, co-curator of the exhibition in the visual arts field.

Visitors are able to experience several ways of perceiving death in a repertoire of 112 images. For example, they may contrast the symbolism of death expressed in pre-Columbian gold objects with contemporary artistic creations, with news media, videogames, or movie images.

This exhibit is divided into five sections that collectively convey the myriad views that go into the socio-cultural construction of death. The first section is titled The Ambiguous Nature of Death, followed by Good Death – Bad Death, The “Here” and the “Afterlife,” “The Afterlife,”, Vanquishing Death, and Reminders of Death.

About the exhibition

As visitors begin the tour of this exhibition, they find very different representations, ranging from cartoons to toy guns to historical images of the War of 1948. In the first section, The Ambiguity of Death, use of various representations of death in industries — such as the weapons, medical, scientific and entertainment industries — are contrasted.

“From an archaeological point of view, sculptures of bound prisoners, warriors, and trophy heads show that pre-Columbian civilizations viewed death in war contexts as honorable and accepted, since it was considered a sacrifice in order to defend the community. This same assessment is found in modern and contemporary war contexts. Although protocols and technologies change, these are institutionalized forms of death,” Priscilla Molina, co-curator in the field of archaeology, explains.

In the next section, Good Death, Bad Death, visitors confront inquiries regarding the limit between a “good” death and a “bad” death as they observe defleshed, beheaded figures in tripod bowls dating from 300 BC to 800 AD, or in photographs by Costa Rican artists such as Pablo Murillo.

“Here” and the “Afterlife” is the following section. In it, one encounters shrines and religious statues, archaeological figures in gold, and works of art such as Adolfo Siliézar’s, which address the belief in a journey from the earthly world to an “afterlife.”

Before reaching the end of the tour, visitors find the section called Defeating Death, which includes representations evoking mechanisms to “defeat” death. Works such as La Vela (The Wake) by artist Adrián Arguedas or Recuerdo/Retorno (Reminder/Return) by photographer Elisa Bergel evince the human wish to postpone and prevent one’s death, or that of others.

The last section of this exhibition – Reminders of Death — shows an ample repertoire of images relating to the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death. It includes masks of human heads dating from 300 AD, pre-Columbian gold pendants, ceramic objects shaped like birds of prey, and works of art such as Entierro macabro (Grisly Funeral) by Francisco Amighetti, or Existencia (Existence) by José Alberto Hernández, among others.

The exhibition is open until August and includes a series of educational activities, such as lectures, workshops, and tours. You may also buy the catalog in the Central Bank Museums Gift Shop.