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Life and Death

Art Preview

Nov. 5, 2008
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The annual Mexican festival Dia de los Muertos, or "Day of the Dead," celebrates the eternal cycles of life and death, often with colorful processionals and parties. Latino Arts Inc. honors this day with its "Dia de los Muertos: Ofrendas Exhibit," opening Nov. 7 at the United Community Center (running through Nov. 21).

The exhibit, which features pieces by community members along with professional artists, pays homage to people released from their earthly lives into death. The artwork recalls the ancestral philosophy that says, "Life is a dream and you awake when you die."

Each ofrenda commemorates a specific person, either personal or public figures, in an artist's life. Collages include recollections of an individual's existence through pictures, prized possessions or even favorite foods, as a way of retelling the stories of their lives and inviting them back to visit the living.

Both the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) contribute to the exhibit with extensive ofrendas made from collaborative efforts by students and museum workshop participants. The MAM's artwork focuses on Mexican papermaking, resembling Maya amate, or bark paper, which afterward is folded into small books or used for intricate paper-cutting designs. Visitors may choose a sample from bowls accompanying the exhibit and write personal memorials to honor someone who touched their lives.

One artist pays tribute each year to her teenage son and two of his friends who were killed in a drive-by shooting, dedicating the ofrenda to Mother's Against Gun Violence, an upcoming gun-control bill and all of the children lost to needless violence.

Another artist, Ximena Soza, created a nontraditional ofrenda that includes a crocheted dress, dried roses and a sheer white tablecloth that resembles an apron. Soza says it's a tribute to Isabel, a teacher, mother and friend "whom cancer took, without the right to say goodbye."

Overflowing with marigolds, paper cuttings and sugar skull candies, these festive ofrendas share the sweets of life with the living.

"Dia de los Muertos becomes an intergenerational festival of family and friends; fun with humor," says Zulay Oszkay, artistic director of Latino Arts Inc. "Nothing is mourned. We remember the light in life."

Latino Arts Inc. offers workshops in making sugar skulls, paper flowers and paper cuttings Nov. 11-13 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day. An opening reception on Nov. 7 begins at 5 p.m. and concludes with an Afro-Cuban musical performance by Quetzal at 7 p.m.

Complementing the Latino Arts Inc. celebration, the Walker's Point Center for the Arts opened its "16th Annual Dia de los Muertos" exhibit last weekend. The show, which includes a wall-sized mural honoring the dead, continues until Nov. 26.

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