When I was asked by ArtPace if I would consider creating a Dia de los Muertos altar for their founder, Linda Pace, I felt honored and grateful. “Based on the work you have done before...” made it a responsibility for me, so l agreed.
I believe that an altar is a temporary portal through which, if the conditions are right, we can visit with, honor and share a nostalgia of our loved ones with our community. In small towns this normally happens in the “campo santo”, the cemetery, as my father would call it. In bigger cities of el Norte the cemetery is less and less frequented for this purpose.
The making of altares in large public festivals representing well known people in the community is marked by a parade/procession to the cemetery and is a more commonly practiced way of sharing, honoring and thanking loved ones in Mexico. Cities like Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City are well known for their epic Dia de los Muertos festivals. I also witnessed the practice of keeping a smaller more personal altar for loved ones throughout the year when visiting my welitos in Diaz-Ordaz, Mexico just across the border from Roma, Texas.
In my experience I've seen Dia de los Muertos festivals introduced and migrating into the popular culture of the Southwest as a result of movies like Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi". More recent movies like "Coco" by Disney Studios directed by Gael Garcia Bernal underscore a more important issue of DDLM's introduction and popularization into american culture. The danger of associating Dia de los Muertos with a commercialized Halloween must be addressed with a full introduction and education of the neophyte audience to the history, symbolism and meaning of Dia de los Muertos in mexican-american culture. Here are some links that will offer a place to start your journey of discovery.
November 1st & 2nd of 2017 The Historic Pearl hosted their very first and the largest Dia de los Muertos Festival event in San Antonio. As part of its FallArtsFestival the city of San Antonio has a citywide celebration for Dia de los Muertos that has been happening for the past 30 years. It was first organized by Centro Cultural Aztlan in 1978 and continues to present. When first begun the observance of Dia de los Muertos was not a very commonly followed practice in a community venue. The observance of this spiritual ritual was confined to the personal altares in people's homes. CCA opened up the event into the cemetery as traditionally observed in the communities in Mexico. For more info visit SA Calaveras.
I chose to collaborated with my mom Victoria Moctezuma Valderas. She still runs the ceramics/flower shop that I grew up working in as a kid. The wreaths that she makes for Dia de los Muertos in the Rio Grande Valley would be one component of the altar that I began to plan. I have collaborated with her before and I have made it a point to do so because of the craft that I learned from her and the very specific style of funeral wreaths that she makes. They are a throwback to earlier times and practices from deeper in Mexico. My father took the whole family to buy the planchas for the different leaf shape that we used. We would hand cut, color, emboss and wax all the paper leaves that went into a wreath.
My other collaborator was San Antonio photographer/filmmaker Luis M. Garza. We have collaborated before on other projects such as Texas Size Print-SATX , The Community Print-San Marcos and Texas Size Breach-El Paso/SATX.c
Currently working on short video documentary of the making of the altar and the install and evening presentation release date TBA.