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En Celebración De Muerte: Offerings for All Souls' Day


The Taos Historic Museums in Taos, New Mexico are pleased to present "En Celebración De Muerte: Offerings for All Souls' Day" at la Hacienda de los Martinez. The exhibit opened on October 17, 2003. The opening reception on October 24, 2003 featured a performance by the Aztec dance group Ixcalli In Nanantzin. This exhibition was partially funded by Mag Dimond and Charles Strong, and Surfaces Painting Co. (right: Anita Rodriguez, Ofrenda)

Guest Curator Olga Torres-Reid invited thirteen artists to create ofrendas (offerings) for the third annual All Souls' Day exhibit. The remembrance of deceased ancestors and loved ones is traditional among diverse cultures throughout the world. Here in the United States this tradition is typically observed on Memorial Day. China celebrates a Pure and Bright Day (Qing Ming Festival) when people visit cemeteries to honor their ancestors and to beautify their graves. In Mexico the remembrance of deceased ancestors is an ancient custom traced back to the Aztec festivals of Miccailhuitontli (held in honor of dead children) and Miccaihuitl (held in honor of the adult dead).

All Souls' Day, a Catholic day of observance, is part of the national celebration in Mexico called El Día de Los Muertos. It is a time of remembering and rejoicing. Families arrange ofrendas for spirits that will return at that time to celebrate with them. Cemeteries will be cleaned, special food will be prepared, and music will be played. It is a very festive occasion. People there still view death as a transition of life, a natural progression, not an ending. These Day of the Dead rituals have distinctive traditions that vary throughout villages in Mexico. (left: Norah Lovell, Ofrenda)

These ofrendas at La Hacienda de los Martinez contain the traditional construction concepts of ones created for El Día de Los Muertos. Incorporated into these installations are the artist's own ideas and beliefs on honoring the dead. These offerings are in celebration of the cycle of life and death.

Artists participating in this exhibition include Cynthia Cook, Robert M. Ellis, Lydia Garcia, Gustavo Victor Goler, Thomas J. Johnson, Stephen Kilborn, Randall LaGro, Norah Lovell, Anita Rodriguez, Jan Sessler, Christina Sporrong, Dug Uyesaka, and Roscoe West. Most of these artists live in the Taos area. Cynthia Cook and Robert M. Ellis live in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Dug Uyesaka is from Santa Barbara, California.

The altars created for this exhibition are as diverse as the work done by these artists. Print maker Thomas J. Johnson's altar is titled "Homage to the Spirit of Earth, Sea, and Sky." He states that his altar "Honors natures renewal and not its demise. Each spent flower holds new seed. From death comes life." Lydia Garcia, a Taos native and a Santera, arranged her altar like a vanity. It is titled "Almas" (souls). Visitors are provided with paper and pen and are asked to write down a prayer and to put it in a prayer box also provided by Lydia. She is then going to display these prayers at her annual Christmas Show at her gallery EliasInez. These prayers will then be collected and offered at a special mass at her church, San Francisco de Assisi in Ranchos de Taos.

Norah Lovell, who is a painter and usually creates her art with fabric, was inspired by the popular Mexican "Loteria" game. Her altar is titled "The Lottery: Guess Now Who Holds Thee?" A mixture of sources, including Victorian illustration and the complex milieu of Mexican artist Posada, fuels the imagery in her "Lottery." The final source for her altar was a favorite poem of hers by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning in which the author explores a netherworld between love and death. Norah's altar is very intense but also very playful in its essence. Illustrations on dollies and antique gloves make up a large portion of this piece. (right: Tom Johnson, Ofrenda; left: Randall LeGro, Ofrenda)

Assemblage artist Dug Uyesaka's altar titled "Sangre del Este, Espíritu del Sur", is an more traditional altar containing photographs of family members, various religious icons along with offerings of flowers, candles, and rice mixed in with a vintage camera, a saki set with skeletons in the cups, and a chocolate Hershey bar with chopsticks laid across it. Dug states that his altar "is a blend of many cultures - a loving culture and a spiritual mélange." Christina Sporrong, a metal worker, created a "Passage" altar from forged steel, brass, copper, and silver leaf. There are candles that adorn the piece with a central offering of pomegranate seeds.

All of the altars in the "En Celebración De Muerte: Offerings for All Souls' Day" are beautiful and contain the inspiration of each individual artist's creativity. This exhibition at La Hacienda de los Martinez will continue through December 14, 2003.

by Olga Torres-Reid, Guest Curator

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