For the third year in a row, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has partnered with El Colegio, a Minneapolis charter school that teaches Latino culture and traditions, to present a special El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) exhibition featuring the work of 20 student artists. Young People's Ofrendas: Expressions of Life and Remembrance features student ofrendas (Spanish for "offerings") created through an arts residency at the school. Students have created a powerful homage to one person who somehow touched them, whether that be a friend, a relative, or a famous person they wanted to honor.
Traditionally, el Día de los Muertos occurs on the Catholic All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). It has roots in Aztec history, where rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors can be traced back 2500 to 3000 years. While Day of the Dead traditions vary from family to family, certain symbols have become associated with the holiday, such as calacas (skeletons), ofrendas (altar-like shrines for the dead), and candlelight processions. Ofrendas typically contain food, pictures, and flowers for the departed, whose souls are believed to return to visit on this holiday. Images of skulls and skeletons are commonly included to symbolize that death is a natural continuation of life.
Gustavo Lira, a renowned muralist who teaches art at El Colegio, states that the ofrendas program emphasizes how important it is to honor our ancestors. "Each student comes up with their own concept," he says. In his experience, many of the students have expressed an interest in learning about the past. Through the course of study, they learn about different cultural perspectives surrounding death, including the Egyptians, the Mayans, and the Aztecs. Students also work on creating narratives and self-expression, in addition to studying composition and color.
One student, Eleonai Bermeo Torres, who is originally from Toluca, Mexico, created a beautiful ofrenda, called Sin Titulo in honor of his father, who died of diabetes. His ofrenda contains boxing gloves, a Mexican flag colored skull, and toy cars pointing to his father's love of Ferraris. There is also a photograph of the two of them together.
Another student, Bryan Nieves Garcia, who is originally from Malibu, California, created his ofrenda in honor of his best friend who committed suicide. His ofrenda has an all black background, with skulls, skeletons, a cannonball, and a picture of his friend.
Another powerful ofrenda was created by Cristian Chavarria, originally from Comayagua, Honduras. He created an offering for his little cousin, who died in 2006 at 8 years old. His ofrenda contains a picture of the child, a crib, an eagle, beads, skulls, and toy cars.
In addition to the student works, there are also ofrendas created by professional artists. Gustavo Lira has created a wonderful ofrenda called Blue Demon in honor of the legendary Mexican wrestling star. Armando Gutierrez also has contributed to the exhibit. The ofrenda he created for his brother, Ofrenda para mi Hermano, is a beautiful piece containing a miniature piano, a photograph, a miniature easel, and a clay skull.
Also on view at the exhibit are videos that the students created, where they talk about their experience creating ofrendas. You can also find out more about the project on their blog.
"Young People's Ofrendas: Expressions of Life and Remembrance" runs through November 14 at the MIA (2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis).