Day of the Dead altars come alive
Walking into SOMart’s Dia de los Muertos 2012 exhibition, altars celebrate ancestors and honor the present and future. The exhibits range from traditional altars to the interactive and futuristic, but consistent throughout is each artist’s ability to represent stories by the community that keep memories alive.
Dedicated to honoring both death and the cycle of life, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mesoamerican holiday dedicated to the ancestors. The holiday encourages keeping deep bonds with ancestors and loved ones that have passed away.
Victor-Mario Zaballa, a longtime artist in SOMart’s Dia de los Muertos exhibit, dedicates his altar to family lineage of artesanas (craft makers) with a traditional altar, sugar skulls, flowers and papel picado.
The altar “Live Vibrantly” makes its home for the recently deceased Daniel del Solar, a lifelong media documentarian of the struggles for social justice, especially those in Latin America. Del Solar documented every Dia de los Muertos exhibit in the Bay Area and now in spirit collaborators Miranda Bergman, Ana Luisa and Nina Serrano have made sure he is remembered.
As every piece displayed comes from Del Solar’s house, it feels like stepping into a lively creative director’s office. Hanging on the orange walls are pictures of Del Solar as well as a copy of Tin-Tan, a Chicano/Latino cultural magazine for which Del Solar was a founding co-editor. To the right hangs a timeline of Del Solar’s accomplishments and his works.
San Francisco-based artist Martha Rodriguez, honors her father’s love, which helped her to survive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. A month before her diagnosis, her father’s warmth surrounded her.
“I felt his arms around me as I carried on with daily life,” Rodriguez said. “I remember thinking how odd that felt since my father had been deceased for nine years.”
Two floating arms—seemingly in a steady embrace—point to the focal point of her altar. In the center hangs a beaming picture of her father.
“I want people to see that [my father] was very loving, very giving, very sensitive, in terms of what you had going on with you and wanting to help you,” she said.
Howie Katz, an Oakland-based artist who focuses on sculpture and installation art, proves that the present can be an eerie window into the future, by using Facebook to let guests create their own altars. Anyone stopping by can log into Facebook and Katz’ program randomly selects photos to be projected onto the altar’s empty picture frames.
Edmundo de Marchena’s “Tree for all” encourages visitors to celebrate their family, regardless of family structure.
“When I grew up, my mother was divorced, and there’s a lot of people who think of you as an incomplete family,” de Marchena said.
De Marchena’s background of living in both Venezuela and the U.S. fuels his passion for integrating art with social causes and psychological perspectives. He invites visitors to hang a ribbon decorated with stickers representing each family member. Each sticker has a symbol for male, female or intersex, and is therefore inclusive of the evolving identities of sexuality.
“Children are relating to it a lot and that’s a measure for me for great success because that is community,” he said. “They don’t need to read anything … they just want to hang up a ribbon (of their family). It’s romantic.”
Guests’ expectations of SOMart’s “Calling on the Spirits to Face the Furture: Día de los Muertos 2012” will certainly be surpassed by the beauty of each alter and the complexity of the stories they tell.
On the opening night, gallery visitor Wilthelma “T” Ortiz reflected on her favorite exhibit by artist Ruby Spam.
“One thing she put on her alter was ‘I want to be a ballet dancer and I need you to believe in me.’ That really inspired me because people have to believe in another in order to be what we really want to be,” Ortiz said.
Spam is one of over hundred artists who have brought both heart, soul and mind in creating both loving and inspiring altars. After a gallery visit, it’s hard to not feel the warmth of sentimental reflection of the past’s ability to give strength for the future.