The Indianapolis Art Center hosts the city's largest Day of the Dead celebration on Saturday, Oct. 29, with five hours of traditional Mexican food, music and arts activities. But the Art Center's slate of programming for the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, involves much more than the one-day event. The festivities include, among other things, exhibitions by three prominent artists in the Art Center's galleries this month and next.
"I've chosen to pay tribute to several immigrants who died pursuing the dream of migrating to the U.S. for a better life," Jimènez says. "As a metaphor of the shared dream that killed them, I have created each of their altars as a personalized portrait using the same basic mask outline. Behind the Mask is intended to pay homage to people that died tragically, remembering them with dignity and respect for the lives they lived and the dreams they boldly pursued."
In creating the personalized portraits, the Chicago-based artist exhaustively researched the lives of individuals who died while emigrating from Latin America. "Using the information that I found about how the life of the individual was like before their death," Jimènez says, "I had to use my imagination and immerse myself in their stories and try to highlight their life."
Among those memorialized by Jimènez are Reymundo Barreda and his 15-year-old son, Reymundo Jr. The artist says of Barreda, "He was a strong man. All he wanted to do was get enough money to build a house for his wife."
Barreda struggled to earn a living as a farmer in the Mexican city of Veracruz. Jimènez cites the North American Free Trade Agreement as contributing to the desperate plight of farmers in Latin America. "That has become one of the main reasons why so many farmers have immigrated to the States," he says.
Jimènez created a luchador mask, which traditionally is worn by a Mexican fighter, for each of the individuals honored through his art. "All of these people died trying to pursue the same dream," he says. "The mask represents the fighter aspect of trying to go through all this hardship, trying to cross the border and running out of water, and all the things they went through."
For Barreda, Jimènez chose to surround his subject's mask with farming tools. As for Reymundo Jr., who, Jimènez says, was the star of his local soccer league, the artist chose to position a soccer ball prominently below the teenager's mask. Two rows of marbles, representing youth, direct the viewer's eyes to the ball, which rests atop the deep, capillary-like roots of a tree.
Jimènez can fully appreciate the significance of the Day of the Dead tradition, as he spent his early years living in a rural part of Mexico. "I grew up in a community that views death as the continuation of life," he says. "Instead of fearing death, we embraced it and celebrated the Day of the Dead, remembering our loved ones that have passed away."
Asked how he anticipates people will respond to his exhibition, Jimènez says, "I hope that the viewer can see the human aspect behind the mask and that everyone deserves to be treated humanely and with respect."
Other artists and activities
In addition to Jimènez's work, the Art Center is also featuring the painting, sculpture and video creations of Charles Gick in the Clowes and Hurt Galleries from Oct. 7 to Nov. 27. In the Ruth Lilly Library, Beatriz Vasquez Schlebecker shows off the elaborate beauty of papelpicado, a Mexican folk art involving cut paper, in an exhibition running from Sept. 30 to Nov. 20.
A community altar is open to the public from Oct. 7 to Nov. 27 in the Art Center's Churchman-Fehsenfeld Gallery and Frank M. Basile Gallery. This year's altar focuses on three inspirational children, each of whom made significant contributions toward global peace and goodwill. Visitors to the community altar are encouraged to bring a toy, which will be donated to local children dealing with homelessness.
A shrine exhibition can be viewed at the Art Center's Community Gallery and Outreach Gallery from Oct. 14 to Nov. 27. The shrine gives people the opportunity to honor deceased loved ones. This year's shrine also features the folk art traditions of nichos and retablos.
The Art Center is offering 45-minute Day of the Dead tours, several activities for kids, and a series of artist workshops, including one hosted by the aforementioned Charles Gick in which participants will learn how to preserve a memory artistically through the creation of an encaustic painting.
For more details on the multitude of events connected to the Day of the Dead celebration, visit indplsartcenter.org.
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