Gallery celebrates Day of the Dead

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Winyan Soo Hoo

In the back of a room in the Verde Gallery,17 E. Taylor St. in Champaign, lies a shrine with a black-and-white etched centerpiece depicting a large group of people feasting together, with hollow eyes and skulls for faces. Bowls of fruit, bread and paper flowers surround the centerpiece, titled “Infinita Noche.” Artemio Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based artist, created the etching that surrounds the shrine. His piece was joined by artwork from a variety of local and national artists in the Verde Gallery’s “Dia de los Muertos” exhibit, which translates to “Day of the Dead.” The exhibit will be open through Dec. 4.

Day of the Dead is a traditional Mexican festivity to celebrate children and the dead, according to Kelly White, a gallery assistant. The celebration is similar to All Saints Day, a time when people communicate with the dead. Although similar to Halloween, there is no horror involved in the Day of the Dead celebration, which is more of a family reunion.

“The exhibit honors our ancestors or the dead in a celebratory way instead of a ghoulish way,” White said.

White said she was pleased with the positive reactions the exhibit has garnered from the community. Many local schools have also visited the exhibit, and she said the reaction from young children has also been positive. She said the exhibit, which elicits a lot of emotion, also takes away fears of death and of the dead.

The skulls and skeletons used in a number of works are part of traditional imagery and represent the characters of people who are dead, said Jess Beyler, a gallery assistant and local artist. Beyer also contributed her art work to the exhibit.

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Instead of using skeletons, Beyer used color as a way to portray death and life in her art piece. She said she wanted to represent the “vision of the world made of light.”

Beyler created a 60-inch vertical piece made of four black and two gold panels, in memory of her late mother. The middle of the first gold panel contains a red nail, hitting the center, as though it was a target. Beyler said the gold panel represents how death is not the final moment in a person’s life, but that there is a continuation or an afterlife.

“I learned about life and death as a single process of moving toward the light,” Beyler said.

Curt Tucker, the owner and curator of Verde Gallery, grew up on the west coast and is familiar with Latin traditions and the Day of the Dead holiday, which Beyler said was common to the area. Beyler said Tucker was more aware of the large but often unrecognized population of Mexican and Latino people in the community. Beyler said Tucker wanted to share the celebration with the people in Champaign-Urbana.

“I think (the exhibit) is important culturally because we don’t get to celebrate as many different cultures,” White said.

Most of the artwork in the exhibit is for sale, and the proceeds will go to the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Agency. The money will help Latinos and other immigrant groups to exchange and preserve their respective cultures.

Herbert Marder, a former professor at the University, also heard about the exhibit from Tucker and agreed with the gallery’s position to understand and celebrate groups who may not get much attention, like the Latino community. Marder, also a local artist, submitted an art piece titled, “Chains of Command.”

In the singular form, chain of command refers to military order, Marder explained. Marder used the plural form of the word to represent other chains of command besides the military, giving the word double meaning.

Marder’s art piece had two types of pictures, including black and white illustrations from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Marder said the pictures consider humankind’s moral law at the beginning of civilization. These images included scenes from the biblical flood associated with Noah’s Ark. The second group of pictures featured in his piece are the photographs from the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Marder said that those involved with the torture of Iraqi prisoners were breaking moral laws.

Marder said he hopes his artwork, as well as other artists’ pieces, will help commemorate people who have passed away.

“They want to keep people who have died – loved ones – alive in memory and celebration,” Marder said.

More Box: For a list of upcoming Day of the Dead events visit