Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an annual
celebration to honor and remember those who have passed away. This
year, the Oakland Museum of California has compiled a vibrant
exhibit, Iluminaciones: Days of the Dead Indigenous and
Colonial Expressions, displaying tradition altars created for the
Dia de los Muertos celebration.
Dia de los Muertos is an annual celebration that is
practiced from Oct. 31-Nov. 2. It originated in Mesoamerica but
since the Chicano movement in the 1970s, it is widely practiced in
the American west and southwest, according to the Oakland Museum.
The celebration uses a variety of Mesoamerican and Catholic symbols
to guide and nourish the souls of loved ones who have departed from
this life. Ofrendas, or altars, are created to bring a
deceased family member’s soul back from the dead. Common symbols
used in the altars-by way of figures and paintings-are birds,
crosses, flames, serpents, hearts, arrows, skulls, horns, and
They are ornate and vivid displays of candles, incense,
marigolds, foods and beverages, personal objects of the deceased
and papel picado (punched tissue paper banners). Pan de
Muerto (bread of the dead) is baked into shapes of bones and
angels and placed on the altar. The flavor and aroma of the bread
is a gift to the dead.
The Oakland Museum’s 11th Annual exhibit shows a wide variety of
traditional altars created by artists. The exhibit is glowing with
vivid colors and interesting mixtures of materials. The artists
used many mediums to create their altars, anything from wood and
metal to shells and mirrors. Personal items of the dead included
within the altars were pictures, artwork, bottles, jewelry, dolls,
books, and figurines.
Las Mãnanitas Portal, an altar
by Jeffrey Ferns and his relatives, commemorates Estévan
Little, Ferns’ brother. Little committed suicide in 1995 and his
family used the combination of personal items and figurines to show
the “life, creativity, desert home and words-spoken and unspoken”
of Estévan. While most of the altars at the exhibit were
dedicated to family members of the artists, one altar was dedicated
to the all victims of cancer.
The exhibit at the Oakland Museum, began on Oct. 13 and will
continue through Dec. 5.