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'Días de los Muertos' comes alive

Californians remembered at OMCA

By Laurel Ference
On October 25, 2012



The 18th annual Day of the Dead exhibit runs through Dec. 9 at the Oakland Museum of California. "Forgotten Stories, Remarkable Lives: Días de los Muertos 2012" honors individuals and groups of Californians, with the unifying factor being their contributions to the betterment of their communities and the lives of those who came after them.

The exhibit is comprised of altars constructed by artists, as well as OMCA docents, students from Tennyson High School in Hayward and Melrose Leadership Academy in Oakland, and friends and family of late Laney Cosmetology instructor and former Faculty Senate president Loretta Hernández.

A Mexican holiday celebrating family and friends who have passed away, Días de los Muertos takes place on Nov. 1-2 in connection with the Catholic holidays All Saints Day and All Souls Day. It is traditional to build altars using sugar skulls, marigolds, and favorite foods and possessions of the deceased.

Artists Rob-O, Imelda Martinez, Brett Cook, Adrian Arias, H. Dionicio Mendoza, Cece Carpio, and Jenifer Wofford were selected by guest curator Eduardo Pineda as not only professional artists, but also educators who create public art.

Pineda, a faculty member of the California College of the Arts, is a community artist and muralist who has collaborated with Laney faculty member Ray Patlán

"I mined the OMCA History collection for examples of people and events in California history that could inspire the artists, teachers, students, and docents who produced altars for this exhibition," Pineda said in his statement about the exhibit.

The altars or "ofrendas" commemorate Californians both conceptually and personally. Tributes are made to young people who have died in East Oakland, nurses and caretakers, and Mexican workers called "Braceros," who came to California to work in agriculture during World War II.

Some of the altars honor specific individuals, including actor and pacifist Lew Ayres, Black Panther Party member Bobby Hutton, and Hernández.

The "nicho" (niche), remembering the life of Hernández, pays tribute to many aspects of her life. Surrounded by marigolds, a picture of the Virgin Mary shows her dedication to religion, books and a skeleton in a classroom represent her commitment to education, and a sequined figure illustrates her appreciation of glamour.

Known for his large-scale altars dedicated to civil rights heroes, artist Brett Cook honors Hutton. One of the youngest members of the Black Panther Party, Hutton was killed by Oakland police two weeks before his 18th birthday in 1968. The altar features brooms which "reference the ancient planting dance of the Mexican Wixárika people, who sweep to make way for spirits of ancestors," according to Cook's artist statement, while wings surrounding Hutton symbolize the "ancient Egyptian god Horus, who represents both the supreme god and the soul of every person."

Above the image of Hutton is an excerpt from the Black Panther Party's Ten-Point Program: "10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace."

Forgotten Stories, Remarkable lives:
Días de los Muertos 2012

Oakland Museum of California
1000 Oak Street, Oakland
Tickets $12 General, $9 Students

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