Monday, October 25, 2010


The nearby town of Ontario, California is developing a nice little museum, and each year around Halloween they have an exhibit of artists' representations of the holiday "El Dia de los Muertos" - the "Day of the Dead." According to literature at the museum, the Day of the Dead festivals in Mexico, Guatemala and the American Southwest have their roots in ancient Aztec traditions, and these two days - the first two days of November - is meant to be a time to remember the dead as well as to honor the continuity of life.
"Consisting of visits to the graves of loved ones, telling stories about the ancestors, preparing favorite foods, dancing, poetry, and the creation of elaborately decorated altars, these celebrations look humorously upon death and warmly welcome visits from the spirits of the departed."
The museum invites artists to show their work at the museum during this period. I go every year because I am fascinated by the way artists express things (I have absolutely no creativity bone in my body and no similar thoughts in my head!) and because each year the exhibit is all fresh and new and different.

Some of the altars on display are definitely the kind I would expect to see in a home. The display above is lovely, low key and definitely understandable. One senses the love of the artist for the subject of the display.

Entirely different, this display above features skeletons and skulls, along with the vibrant colors and it obviously honors people who knew how to enjoy life, even down to the ice chest! This holiday makes great use of skeletons and unless a person knows this, it can be quite a shock or surprise to walk into the exhibit hall and find skulls and skeletons in abundance amid all the colorful displays.

This picture above was paired with a similarly clad male, and they made such a different kind of statement. Beautifully rendered, they had nothing of the color and vibrancy of the traditional displays, but their dramatic black and white figures were every bit as celebratory as the more traditional expressions.

The decorated ladder, with the "angel" on the top, certainly seems to me to have an obvious message. I loved this one because it was simple enough to understand what was being said, although I'm sure much of the symbolism was lost to me because of my lack of "artistic vision!"

"El Dia de Los Muertos" celebrations are definitely not a cultural counterpart to our Halloween celebrations, although Halloween too started out with a religious significance.

As far as I know, the biggest celebration of this holiday locally is held in Los Angeles at the "Hollywood Forever" cemetery. It is a full day celebration, with a fee being charged to enter the cemetery grounds. I'm quite sure burials are never scheduled for that day. Although I haven't been to it, I did quite by accident discover it two years ago when I drove into LA with two cousins to see and photograph an ancestor's crypt that we had just learned was there. When we saw literally hundreds of costumed people lined up to get inside as well as all the bands and vendors that were setting up inside, we realized a very big "something" was going on. At that point we read the signs posted out in front of the cemetery and decided we would see our William J Hurlbut tomb some other day. Hollywood Forever has a website especially set up for El Dia de los Muertos, and I imagine you can find more displays there.

At any rate, I am impressed by what these artists have done, and I thank them for giving me such a visual treat. Also, I am pleased that the little Ontario museum makes it possible for me, as an outside appreciator looking in, celebrate this holiday with those for whom it is a special event.

1 comment:

marciamayo said...

I love Day of the Dead. It fits my dark personality.