Take BART to Oakland Museum's 15th Annual Dias de los Muertos Celebration


Take BART to Oakland Museum's 15th Annual Dias de los Muertos Celebration

Detail of Sal Garcia's Columbarium

Dancing skeletons and sugar skulls return as the Oakland Museum of California hosts its 15th annual Días de los Muertos celebration. The exhibition opens Wednesday, October 8, continuing through December 7.

Guest curator Fernando Hernández titled the exhibition "Evolution of a Sacred Space: Días de los Muertos 2008" to convey how the spiritual tradition has changed since its pre-Columbian roots. A living tradition, Days of the Dead is recognized as a cultural holiday throughout California.

The popular Días de los Muertos Community Celebration, Saturday, October 25, offers craft activities, food, costumed performers, a market (mercado), and ceremonial procession into the museum gardens. Performers include Danza Xitllali, Squeezebox Sabroso, Beshbeni, Ballet Folklorico Mexicano, and Yolanda Aranda Coria. Hours are 12 noon –5 p.m. and admission is free. (For a complete list of events, go to www.museumca.org)

Hernández, a sculptor and arts educator, explores the evolution of Days of the Dead rituals and elements used for centuries to create a sacred space to honor the dead. Altars (ofrendas) depict pre-Columbian, colonial, and contemporary offerings for deceased loved ones. Community groups, artists, and school children have captured the spirit of the modern holiday with sound, multimedia pieces, and art.

Central to "Evolution of a Sacred Space" is the Columbarium, designed and coordinated by Hernández with the East Bay Art Collective (EBAC). Each EBAC participant created an altar in an 11 x 17-inch box. When backlit the boxes glow like stained glass. A columbarium is a wall of niches at a cemetery where funerary urns are kept behind glass windows.

"I aimed for the full spectrum of the Bay Area population," Hernández said. "I want the participants to bring their personal history to the project. If they are Irish, I encouraged them to use Irish imagery to honor their ancestors, rather than adopt someone else’s culture."

Yolanda Garfias Woo’s installation mingles her Mexican-American heritage and shared Chinese culture to honor her husband of 50 years, artist Gary Jin Hawn Woo.

"My ofrenda combines two people, two souls, two cultures, and two different celebrations of life," she said. "I hope people will see similarities between the cultures—flowers, food, candles, cut paper, incense."

Hernández dedicated part of "Evolution of a Sacred Place" to the work of San Jose photographer and journalist Mary J. Andrade. "Mary’s photographs give a sense of what you would actually see on Días de los Muertos in different regions of Mexico," he said.

Other participating artists include Daniel Camacho, Sal García, Guillermo Galindo, Bea Carrillo Hocker, Peter and Maureen Langenbach, Las Tres Flores, Phil Long, Miriam Martínez, Valeria Ponte, Nora Raggio, Salvador Sánchez, Diane Shepp, Sinh, Gustavo Vazquez, and Victor Mario Zaballa.

The Oakland Museum Women’s Board will create an ofrenda to honor departed past presidents and department chairs of the White Elephant Sale, which has provided generous funding for museum exhibitions and programs.

Six local schools will also contribute to the Days of the Dead exhibition: Skyline High and Redwood Heights Elementary (Oakland); Tennyson High, Russ Elementary, and Moreau Catholic High (Hayward); and Castro Valley High School.

Gallery Talks (all included with museum admission) include:

  • Sunday, Oct 19. Artists Miriam Martínez and Yolanda Garfias Wood (2 p.m.)
  • Friday, Nov 7 (First Fridays After Five). Artists Peter and Maureen Langenbach and participating school groups (5–7 p.m.). Fernando Hernández and Mary J. Andrade (8 p.m.)
  • Sunday, Nov 16. Artists Guillermo Galindo and Mary J. Andrade (2 p.m.)

Image credit: This page and homepage thumbnail, detail of Sal Garcia's Columbarium.