Exhibition transports visitors to a fragile slice of land in the Graveyard of the Atlantic where more than 500 untamed horses make their home
A small island situated more than 150 miles southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, sits at the center of the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” The site of more than 475 shipwrecks since the 17th century, Sable Island also is home to some 500 feral horses.
In 1994, Romanian-born New York-based photographer Roberto Dutesco learned about the horses and made his first trip to the island, a perilous journey by small plane from Halifax. Over the course of several visits, Dutesco captured the beauty and isolation of the wild horses and their austere habitat. For the first time, Dutesco’s Wild Horses of Sable Island exhibition will be shown in Kansas City at the Museum at Prairiefire. The exhibition, which runs through June 21, includes 33 of Dutesco’s iconic photographs and content about Dutesco, his process, his poetry and Sable Island.
In 1990, Dutesco discovered a short film made by the Canadian Film Board about national treasures. “It was this grainy and gritty little film, but among the treasures was Sable Island,” he says. “I made myself a note, but like all good intentions, I put it in a safe place and went on with life. I found the note a year later. So I started researching before Google and the Internet. I found a few scattered books with mentions of the island and no photography. I then made it my life’s mission to see the island. I took about a year and a half to receive clearance and transportation.”
The first trip was in 1994. “Last year I went back to celebrate 20 years,” he explains. Dutesco created a documentary, Chasing Wild Horses, during his visits to the island. The documentary has been viewed by more than 30 million people in 50 countries, and helped turn Sable Island into a protected federal park, meaning that no one can visit it without the Canadian government’s invitation. The Canadian government also passed a law that no one can come closer than 60 feet to the wild horses, making Dutesco’s images among the rare up-close shots of these creatures.
“When the documentary played, 10 million Canadians watched it and the government was flooded with requests to go to Sable Island,” he notes. “It was important that the Canadian Parliament made the island a national park. The island even came up for sale twice. Now it is under Canadian law and now preserved for generations to come. I can take some credit.” Dutesco is currently working to protect the island again as oil and gas rigs have moved closer to the island. “Nothing has happened yet, but I don’t want anyone digging under the island or jeopardizing the horses.”
Dutesco has been to Sable Island nine times during the past two decades. His photographs have been seen all over the world, primarily in galleries or public places. “One of the conditions for permission to visit the island, I was to have the exhibit in a museum. The Museum of Natural History in Halifax has added the Sable Island photos into a permanent exhibit.
“With the exhibition, I see that people become more loving, more curious about the positive qualities of nature,” he says. “Those qualities are displayed in front of the photographs. Deep down, we are wild, free and full of emotion. We have forgotten how extraordinary nature can be. I have been fortunate to see the horses and spend time with them. They are unafraid of men. I want people to be touched. With these horses, people will see wilderness untouched. I want to create a conversation about collaboration and conservation.”