Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Latino celebration dedicated to honoring the lives of the deceased and seeing death as a continuation of life.
This year, the Oakland Museum of California displays their 13th annual Dia de los Muertos exhibit, “Laughing Bones, Weeping Hearts,” demonstrating the artwork and ofrendas, or offerings, of artists and students invited to eulogize the dead and share their mourning process.
According to Carol Marie Garcia, guest curator, this year’s “Laughing Bones, Weeping Hearts” exhibit represents Death’s watchful eye that sees both the living and the dead. “Looking toward the dead, Death sees laughing bones that are happy to be liberated from the flesh. Glancing toward the living, Death sees weeping hearts that are sad for the loss of loved ones,” Garcia said in the exhibit’s introduction.
Reflecting upon life and death, the laughing and weeping of the Dia de los Muertos exhibition is demonstrated through the recurring dancing skeletons and smiling skulls beside hearts with tears seen throughout the artwork.
Ambos Mundos, Sombra y Luz, an altar by Deborah Rumer, represents both the worlds of life and death through Luz (light) and Sombra (shadow). The altar is set up as a tea party between Luz and Sombra depicted as a woman and a skeleton, with Sombra sitting behind Luz and placing her skeleton hands over Luz’s shoulders, reminding us that we are bound to death. On a mural backdrop, butterflies float from Luz’s hands and skeleton butterflies and ghost moths are released by Sombra, depicting the fragility of life, according to the artist. Spectators seemed to favor this piece most because the two are perceived as “inseparable friends,” where Sombra offers Luz sugar skulls as a reminder of the “sweetness” of life when Luz fails to see the wonder of it.
Alfombras de Arena, a sand carpet by Calixto Robles, conveys sadness and mourning through solemn colors and crying hearts in his labyrinth that delineates a “symbolic walk of life” through a pathway of shoes belonging to both the living and the dead. Cempasuchtil, or marigolds (the flower symbol of death), are placed in the shoes of those who have died, and traditional objects of the altars are displayed to convey a religious funerary offering through imagery and somber colors.
“It’s a really effective piece,” spectator Alessandra White said. “It makes me so sad to see these tiny shoes with the marigolds in them, but at the same time it’s amazing to see this spread of different shoes. It’s almost like you can tell how these deceased persons used to be.”
Some altars, such as Jana Weston’s Calaveras Para mi Familia, were dedicated to entire families through solemn expressions. Calaveras Para mi Familia displays skulls crafted to tell a story about each deceased family member it represents. Vibrant colored flowers hang over the crafted skulls reminding us to celebrate the good and bad aspects of those who have passed.
Other altars, such as Wende Stit’s Antonio were dedicated to single family members or friends through a more humorous reflection. A collaborative embroidered quilt in Antonio honors “Tony” Herrera, an artist, and his efforts to replicate beauty through drawings and tattoos.
According to Herrera’s friends and family members, the skull with tattoo-gun crossbones and “hot chicks” and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth icons on the multi-colored quilt vividly portrayed Herrera.
The exhibit, held through Dec. 3, is rooted in the belief that spirits of the dead visit the living between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2. Together, the artwork of the “Laughing Bones, Weeping Hearts” exhibit visually represents the fond memories and sorrows the living still hold for deceased loved ones.