CaliVera: Celebrating the Days of the Dead

Laurie says:

I went to the Oakland Museum last Sunday to see “CaliVera: Days of the Dead Altars Remixed” curated by Jaime Cortez.

Jaime is an artist and cultural worker, who is a founding member of Corpus magazine, which just published a portfolio of nudes from Familiar Men with an essay by Debbie in their fall issue. He and I co-curated an exhibition “Men of Color:Nudes at Ease” a few years ago.

In the exhibition, he and the artists “explore how this ancient Mexican and Central American spiritual tradition honoring the dead has inspired artistic expressions unique to California’s spirit.”

The exhibition was remarkable. To quote Jaime. “Days of the Dead is a mystical and sensuous immigrant to the Golden State. The celebration has given thousands of Californians a more accepting and even playful attitude toward death. In exchange, the holiday has been transformed by the quirky, inventive, and cosmopolitan spirit of our state. This year’s exhibition, CaliVera, reflects how this ancient spiritual practice has been infused with new life in California.”

All of the ofrendas (anything placed on an altar or given as an offering to honor the dead) were very impressive work. It’s unusual to see a show with such consistently high quality.

I was particularly struck by Ehren Tool’s tribute to the California soldiers killed in the Iraq war. The Altar is a long shelf with damaged cups. Each cup has an image–a symbol or other representation of the soldiers and the military. The accompanying video shows each cup being shot. The whitish cups have blood-red insides. When you see them, you literally see the entryand exit wounds. It’s a superb example of an artist using small domestic objects to evoke powerful emotion.

Patrick “Pato” Hebert‘s ofrenda is a wishing well created out of street rubble with a green pool of multilayered portraits that blend and emerge as you walked around the pool. The more I contemplated it, the more moved I was. It simultaneously has a a real edge and a deep spirituality .

And I loved the equal inclusion in the exhibition of two traditional Días de los Muertos ofrendas by students from Berkeley and Oakland.

All of the work was superb. The exhibition was beautifully balanced in terms of quality, diversity (of the works and of the artists) and messages. And after seeing too many exhibitions that were about the curator’ s own agenda, it was a pleasure to see one this brilliantly curated exhibition about the artists’ work.

If you’re in the Bay Area or visiting, the exhibition runs through December 4, 2005.