Krannert Art Museum exposes new culture

By Christine Kim

Death is an inevitable aspect of life.

While death is something that everyone faces, the methods of coping and honoring the deceased vary among the different cultures, traditions and religions. Among them is the Day of the Dead, whose aspects of Mexican and Latin American tradition and culture are brought here on campus inside the Krannert Art Museum.

Displaying until Dec. 31, the Altars for the Dead, Vows for the Living exhibit consists of 60 pieces of 19th and 20th century devotional ex-voto and retablo paintings and two contemporary Day of the Dead altars arranged by guest curators Maria Isabel Silva, a graduate student in the Institute of Communication research, and Bernard Cesarone, an employee of the College of Education.

The exhibit will be supplemented with a guided tour of the exhibition by Cesarone and Silva on Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. as well as a reception taking place on Oct. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m.

The Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, is a time when the deceased souls of loved ones come back into the world and are welcomed through an ofrenda, an offering, or an altar in the home. The altars, although all different, most commonly consists of the favorite foods of the deceased, flowers, decorations, pictures of Christ or the Virgin Mary or Saints, candles and other decorations.

The home altar, created by Silva, is more private and traditional, whereas the second altar, which will be finished by Oct. 30, will be more communitarian and commercial.

“I visited the museum and this exhibit stood out to me with all the bright colors,” said Susanna Pak, a freshman in LAS. “I liked how the home altar seemed very personalized and how it consisted of so many pieces. It showed me a whole different culture and how Latin Americans and Mexicans honor their deceased.”

Three years ago Silva proposed an idea to display some sort of Latin American art in the museum. Although the idea was not carried through at that time, this exhibition still brought about the same differences.

“This exhibit is different from many of the others because they’ve never had a bilingual exhibit. So as far as I know, that’s a radical difference,” Cesarone said. “I don’t recall any Latin American exhibits here.”

Moreover, the exhibit will bring together the Mexican community to further personalize and contribute to the aspects of the exhibit. The second altar will be built by a group of people in the Mexican community outside of the university.

“The museum is a way to open up to the community,” Silva said. “Usually people don’t come to the museum, so that’s why I want them to have access. By opening with an event like this, the museum opens with something that interests them and they will also see other things in the museum. It’s a friendly way of incorporating the community to culture.”

While the altars brought about a sense of tradition, the ex-votos, an offering presented in thanksgiving for an answered prayer, and retablos, paintings on tin pieces depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary and Saints, presented the Mexican history and religion. A large number of the paintings are from the personal collection of Cesarone, but others were lent from the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Chicago and from the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria, Ill. as well as from a number of private lenders in New Mexico and California. They were chosen carefully to show the many varieties and types of paintings within the 19th and 20th century.

“The construction of the altars in the museum is a way to celebrate culture and open it to the rest of the community,” Silva said. “Usually the people of the migrant workers’ community don’t come to museums, and that’s why I want to make it more friendly for them. The construction of the altar for the Day of the Dead is an event that is more inviting to them. Also, they will enjoy other great exhibitions in the Krannert Art Museum. It’s a friendly way of incorporating this community to other cultures.”

Each variety of the paintings was followed by a short explanation and description of its history and meaning to help guide students and viewers along the exhibit.

“At least the way the paintings are placed on the wall, it’s intended to provide an educational sequence of how these things work, how this art tradition was developed over a century or two, how it began, how it ended. These various themes are intended to be a multi-themed sort of show,” Cesarone said. “I want them to notice the development of tradition across these two centuries and some of the uses of devotion in homes and churches and to also see a religious and sociological function for art. Hopefully, they can perceive this underlying sense of unity: the world is one, humanity is one.”

The exhibit, with both the altars and the paintings, serve to provide not only entertainment in just looking at the colorful paintings, but also to give people a new perspective.

“I want students to learn other cultural ways of understanding not only religious practices, but also social and life-cycle events,” Silva said. “Since we, the U.S., share the same continent, the same hemisphere with Latin America, it is important for people here to be curious of those cultures and ways of living. This curiosity and sharing of interests enrich all of us. I want to help to open the door a little bit for students to learn something about our neighbors of the South. Everyone is invited to bring pictures of people they want to remember and celebrate and put them on the altar.”