Her First Rodeo
And having been raised by parents who lived under a communist regime in then-Czechoslovakia, she grew up familiar with a fascination in "Western" culture. Under the regime, "the cowboy thing and country music was forbidden, but of course, therefore, it’s super interesting and cool," she told office.
"People would do it in the underground, singing country songs with Czech words. Traveling around Czech Republic you’ll find a lot of Western-themed bars." Her parents were very much in on the cowboy craze. "My dad was so excited when he got his first pair of jeans in the ‘90s," she explained, "he was so proud of his full-jean outfit, because he's like 'This is so Western, this is so America.' I think the first thing he did when he visited me in New York was go to the Levi’s shop. It was a bittersweet, melancholy experience for him."
She was also interested in exploring the gender dynamics at play in a real-life rodeo. And like you’d expect, there was less attention paid to the cowgirls’ section of the show than the cowboys’... even though there’s literally nothing cooler than a real-life cowgirl. The real culture shock for Mundilová was the unbridled nationalism that’s so commonplace in the US.
"It was more like a trip to the church than the rodeo," she said, "because everyone was singing the anthem more like a prayer than a song––I never experienced this kind of patriotism in the countries I’ve lived in. It’s like a pop cultural thing [in the US]."
Considering the raucous one would expect at a rodeo, “Cowpunchers” is steeped in an eerie stillness. Spectators look solemn with their hands over their hearts for the National Anthem, and kids address Mundilová's camera with an air of shy suspicion. The event reads visually like a melancholy rite of passage masquerading as a communal celebration.
Check out our favorite photos from the series, below.