By Michael Christensen, @folkloremike
For twelve years the centerpiece of the Dia de los Muertos was a traditional altar constructed by partner organization Una Mano Amiga. The altar, built entirely by UMA Director Rocio Mejia, her family, and close friends, was a dramatic spectacle honoring and paying tribute to the dead. The post-colonial style altar may be familiar to many, as it has been part of Mexican and other Central and South American countries Dia de los Muertos holiday for over 500 years. The three-tiered altar was a complete offering, with photos of deceased loved ones; arches & crosses; glasses of water and other beverages; food; salt; candles; mirrors; marigold flowers; colorful cut paper and other adornments. Like altars of its type, the heartfelt and beautiful display combined indigenous and Catholic iconography, all displayed to honor and pay respect to the dead.
For 2016 the Cultural Center has looked even further back into the history of Dia de los Muertos, and invited artist Rosa Lopez (Nahui Oceloyaocihuatl) to build an altar in the style Aztec and other Meso-American civilizations might have over 3,000 years ago. This altar may be less familiar, as it is constructed more like a Navajo sandpainting might be, on a flat surface, and with colorful sawdust creating Aztec and other Meso-American imagery.
Also returning this year are the community altars, which will circle the perimeter of the gallery. Participating community organizations currently include The Consulate of Mexico in Salt Lake City; Salt Lake Community College; Juan Diego High School; Valley Junior High, and others. There are some spaces still available if you or your organization are interested in participating in the altar & art exhibition. Information on how you may get involved can be found here.
Dia de los Muertos themed art installations will also be a part of this year’s exhibition. Returning is the very popular Zacuanpapalotls piece by local artist Nadia Morales. The dramatic installation features a swarm of monarch butterflies, a potent symbol in Day of the Dead imagery.
Also returning this year is another 3-dimensional artist Sonia Pence, whose triptych altar paying tribute to 3 freedom fighting sisters who died under Dominican Republic military rule was a visceral and astonishing piece included in last year’s exhibition. This year, Sonia presents Ascension a vertical vortex of crows meant to describe the transformation after death.
Artist Pilar Pobil’s painting depicting Dia de los Muertos happenings in a Mexican cemetery is as sacred as it is inviting, featuring a young girl falling asleep from exhaustion due to the days of activities preparing for and engaging in the holiday.
The Day of the Dead Altar & Art Exhibition will be on display at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center Oct 24 – Nov 3, and may be viewed Mon – Thurs, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by arrangement. Guests are particularly invited to join us for the Day of the Dead community celebration on Oct 29. The event runs from noon – 6 p.m. and is $5 for adults; children 12 and under and students with ID are granted free admission. More information about the event may be found here.