October 6, 2000

Chicanos en Mictlan: Día de los Muertos in California

The Mexican Museum is proud to present Chicanos en Mictlán: Día de los Muertos in California, on display in The Mexican Museum galleries October 7 through December 31, 2000. This latest exciting exhibition is the culmination of the Museum's 25th Anniversary year and will be the crowning exhibit at Fort Mason Center before the Museum's move to the dynamic Yerba Buena Neighborhood. Originated by The Mexican Museum, Chicanos en Mictlán outlines the origins and influences of Day of the Dead observances in California through works by over fifty artists. It is the first survey to examine the transformation that Día de los Muertos has undergone in California, recounting the impact and evolution of Day of the Dead among Chicano artists. It focuses on the impact that two small cultural centers, Self Help Graphics in Los Angeles and Galería de la Raza in San Francisco, have had in introducing Day of the Dead to the public.

The conceptual underpinnings of Day of the Day date back to the pre-conquest civilizations of Mesoamerica, which believed that death and life were inseparable and part of a natural cycle. It is suspected that these spiritual beliefs originated over 3,000 years ago with the Olmecs, an early and very influential Mesoamerican civilization who inhabited what is now known as the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabas-co. These notions about life and mortality, as well as the rituals and celebrations associated with Mictlán, the indigenous land of the Dead, passes on to later Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Toltecs, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Maya, Pipil, and Aztecs. Eventually, after the Conquest of Mexico by the Spanish, these spiritual beliefs were absorbed into Mexican Catholicism, concentrated into the traditional, Christian holiday - All Souls' Day (November 2), which became Día de los Muertos.

Día de los Muertos is still celebrated in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd (in some parts of the country, it begins October 31). Ofrendas (altars) are dedicated to deceased family members and loved ones, with decorating styles varying according to regions and individuals. Ofrendas generally include photos of the deceased, candles, pan de muertos (a special holiday bread), sweets (such as sugar skulls), water, alcohol (pulque, beer, or tequila), incense, personal objects, and flowers, especially the cempazuchitl (marigold). Families also visit graves of loved ones, which they sweep, clean and decorate, and burn incense, light candles, and offer music and stories to the dead.

In the United States, Day of the Dead was mostly celebrated among Mexican-American communities living along the border area between Mexico and Texas. It gained widespread visibility, however, as a result of the Chicano Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. Day of the Dead became a vehicle through which Chicanos could re-connect to their indigenous heritage and their Mexican ancestors, both familial and historical. Within community galleries like San Francisco's Galería de la Raza and Los Angeles; Self-Help Graphics, Chicano artists evolved ofrendas into art installations, and Day of the Dead imagery began to appear in other media; including painting, prints, mixed-media constructions, and sculpture. The exhibition will feature two ofrendas to Ralph Maradiaga, Co-founder and Co-director of Galería de la Raza who died in 1985 and Sister Karen Boc-calero, founder and director of Self Help Graphics who died in 1997. The artwork on display continues to reflect aspects of remembrance, loss, grief, humor and spirituality, key elements of this unique tradition.

The opening reception of Chicanos en Mictlán: Día de los Muertos in California will be held at The Mexican Museum on Friday, October 6, 2000, 6-9 p.m. Join us for live music and sumptuous food by Maya restaurant. Admission is free and open to the general public. In addition, curator Tere Romo will be leading a tour of the exhibition, "A Walk Through Mictlán" on Saturday, October 7 at 1 p.m. along with special presentations by altar makers Yolanda Garfias Woo and Ofelia Esparza. Chicanos en Mictlán: Día de los Muertos in California will be accompanied by a full color illustrated catalogue, providing a comprehensive context for this unique and popular cultural phenomenon. It includes essays by Tere Romo, scholar David Carrasco and artist Harry Gamboa. It will be available in the Museum store, La Tienda.

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