Monday, October 24, 2011


2009 Ofrenda before the community's additions
Two years ago, one of our Artists-in-Residence, Lauren Raine, put together an ofrenda--a place of offering--in recognition of El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Traditionally celebrated on November 2, the Feast of All Souls. While originating in Mexico, the custom of celebrating the lives of those who have died with a gaily-decorated shrine filled with flowers, paper lace, salt, bread, and candles, as well as photographs of the deceased, candy skulls, and dancing skeletons has spread to many other places. Here, the community added to Lauren's basic design, adding tokens and photographs of their loved ones to create an organic, collaborative artwork.

detail of the 2011 Ofrenda
This year, our Program Administrator, Amy Gray is helping us build another ofrenda. Many of the same elements used previously are present once again, but the addition of Amy's large, bright yellow paper-lace backdrop changes the overall effect, making it even more celebratory. As in such hand-made shrines and altars in every culture, a certain similarity is preserved even as the specific details change in response to new circumstances and new ideas.

the 2011 Ofrenda a few days before Dia de los Muertos
This year, the Wesley community has been adding elements to the basic Ofrenda, making it their own. When I went to look at it this morning, I saw photographs of loved ones that I hadn't seen a few days ago as well as a few new objects. Bread, salt, water, and a bowl of coins serve as signs of hospitality to those who live in this world, as well as to those who live in the world to come. The flickering light of candles invites the passerby to stop in the midst of a busy day to reflect, to pray, perhaps to light another candle. This  kind of participatory art-making, where everyone is invited to add items as they please, anything is possible, and no one is really in charge, taps into a desire to be known in ways outside our ordinary means of communication. In its over-the-top exuberance, it reflects a deep longing for both celebration and remembrance that is at the heart of the Day of the Dead.

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