Marigolds, skeletons, pan de muertos and altars: The Carlsten Art Gallery captured Día de los Muertos’ distinctive flavor and brought it to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point community.
The gallery celebrated the culmination of the three-week Día de los Muertos exhibit just in time for the holiday.
What is Día de los Muertos?
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and parts of the United States. It is a two day festival on Nov. 1 and 2 to celebrate the memory of loved ones who have passed away.
The traditions of the holiday stem from ancient Aztec customs, in which death was an integral subject. The festival was influenced by Catholic priests from Spain, linking Día de los Muertos with All Souls’ Day, the same holiday from which Halloween derives.
It is traditionally believed that the souls of lost loved ones were permitted to travel to earth during the festival before returning to the land of the dead.
It is important to share Día de los Muertos with the community because people are not educated about this, said Ana Runnion, Spanish lecturer. “It is a Mexican event that comes from ancient times. It is not Halloween. It looks like it, but it’s not.”
The Carlsten Art Gallery has hosted Día de los Muertos exhibits for almost ten years.
“The event was so popular and engaged many students as well as community members that it was added to the yearly gallery schedule,” said Leigh Wilcox, Carlsten Gallery director.
The art exhibit, which was on display from Oct. 10-30, featured a variety of art inspired by Día de los Muertos.
The altars, traditionally known as “ofrendas,” made in the home for a specific family member who has passed, were designed by the Latino Student Alliance, Spanish Club and the Carlsten Gallery Student Advisory Committee.
The exhibit also displayed paintings created by UWSP art students, murals and a sculpture.
Collaboration of The Department of World Languages and Literature, the Department of Art & Design, Diversity of College Access Office of Student Affairs, College of Fine Arts and Communication, the Carlsten Gallery Student Advisory Committee, Latino Student Alliance and Spanish Club made the wide variety of exhibition pieces possible.
“We would not be able to host such a rich and fun event without the support of these departments and student groups,” Wilcox said.
In the past, the exhibit has not stayed in the Carlsten for quite as long as this year. This year is the first year the exhibition has been a three-week event.
“In lengthening the exhibition, we hope to reach a broader audience, both on campus and in the community,” Wilcox said. “By reaching more people, we hope to educate visitors about the event and highlight a beautiful celebration of lost loved ones.”
The exhibition included a film screening of “La Vida y los Muertos,” translated as “Life and the Dead,” a 2014 documentary about the annual celebration of Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The 50-minute film showed video footage of the different ways people celebrate Día de los Muertos in cities and villages within the state of Oaxaca.
The documentary did not have the traditional voice-over narrating what was being displayed on screen. Instead, scenes were punctuated with informational words on the screen, written in both Spanish and English.
Language was not the focus of the film. Apart from the music used throughout the film, there were no spoken words. The video focused on the physical aspects of the festival and the emotion permeating Día de los Muertos that do not need words to express them.
The film described the celebration as “joyous yet respectful,” detailing the customs of the holiday during which “the city becomes alive with the dead.”
Preparations begin Oct. 31 and the celebration begins on the first day of November.
Nov. 1 is known as “día de los angelitos” or “day of the little angels,” where it is believed that the spirits of young children return to earth. Nov. 2 is dedicated to celebrating the lives of adult loved ones who have passed away.
The film draws a strong parallel between life and the festival, both being a celebration but a markedly fleeting one. “Love and death – there is nothing stronger,” read one message in the film.
This is the second year the Carlsten has offered a screening of “La Vida y los Muertos.”
“We wanted to present this film again because it provides a rich view of celebrations of Day of the Dead throughout the Oaxaca region of Mexico,” Wilcox said. “Viewers are given the opportunity to see the variations in celebrations across the region and visually engage in the beauty of the event.”
The closing reception of the Carlsten’s Día de los Muertos exhibit was held on Saturday evening, Oct. 29.
The gallery was open for viewing, but there was also face painting, coloring, cookie decorating, a live mariachi band and food provided by El Ranchito.
Lindsay Lechner, junior elementary education and Spanish major, attended the closing reception.
“I think it’s really cool that they brought together the art and the alters… the mariachi band here and the authentic food as well, and the activities, just bringing all aspects of it together for this event,” Lechner said.
The band, Mariachi Corcel de Madison, performed traditional mariachi music in the Carlsten exhibit. The musicians wore the quintessential costumes of the musical genre and added to the festive air of the evening.
“I really like the mariachi band,” Lechner said. “With a lot of Día de los Muertos events, they don’t have the music part of it.”
The reception captured the festive tone of Día de los Muertos, a tone of remembrance but also of celebration and liveliness.