The Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration that spans centuries. In its trajectory through the ages, the celebration has received influences from indigenous peoples, Catholicism, regional differences, and the creativity of those who construct the ofrenda, or altar.
Several elements are typically included on an ofrenda. Photographs of the departed are the centerpiece, as the ofrenda is built to honor and to invite those who have passed to the other world. These photos of the deceased are displayed alongside candles, saints’ pictures, skulls, offerings of food and drink, marigolds, incense, paper cut-outs or papel picado, salt, personal items, crosses, nuts and seeds, and water.
A special bread, pan de muertos, is provided to the deceased and to the living who visit an ofrenda. Pan de muertos is an essential element that has been recorded as originating in the 16th century contact between Spanish and Aztec civilizations. José Luis Curiel Monteagudo, in his book Azucarados Afanes, Dulces y Panes, says, “To eat pan de muertos is for the Mexican a true pleasure, considering the cannibalism of bread and sugar. The phenomena is treated with respect and irony. Defying death, they make fun of her by eating it.” As with the pan de Muertos, each of the items on the ofrenda have their own symbolism that relate to the deceased and their journey back to the living realm.
The three-day celebration of Día de los Muertos takes place on October 31, November 1, and November 2. In New York State, several celebrations are planned in many different locations. A few locations are the following:
- New York Folklore, 129 Jay Street, Schenectady presents an ofrenda, designed by community advocate Ana Lorena Diana, with support from the Schenectady Initiative Program and the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fair Game. New York Folklore’s ofrenda will be available for viewing from October 31 through November 7, 2020.
- Glow Traditions, in Western New York, invites the public to their ofrenda which will be on view from October 27th through November 1 at the Mariachi de Oro Mexican Grill in Medina, NY, in collaboration with Leonel Rosario. In addition, visitors are invited to the virtual celebration and resource page at https://www.goart.org/glow-traditions/
- Arts Mid-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, is partnering with the Poughkeepsie Public Library and the City of Poughkeepsie for Día de los Muertos programming. Information and a calendar of events can be found at the Poughkeepsie Public Library https://poklib.org/day-of-the-dead-celebration-celebracion-del-dia-de-los-muertos/
- ArtsWestchester, in collaboration with with Edgar and Juana E. Pinyol and the White Plains Public Library, presented Dia De Los Muertos, a program featuring artists from the Mexican, Paraguayan, Bolivian, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, and Peruvian communities of Peekskill and White Plains. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUvO9A8uH-c&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2vjlvfGiqWUmINMLzIHYDvnNWrxYrkMfyHTTeD0jeCoc6pkdZZxgxe20A
- Bronx Documentary Center and Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, 614 Cortland Avenue Bronx, NY have created a special “COVID-19” ofrenda, dedicated to those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.
Finally, visit the web-pages of NYSCA Living Traditions to view videos and other programmatic materials related to Día de los Muertos in New York, including building an ofrenda and making a traditional Oaxacan sand painting.
For more information or to view images and/or videos relating to Día de los Muertos, visit this beautiful visual documentary site of Dane Strom:
Image courtesy of Aurelia Fernandez
MANY staff lent a hand at the Water/Ways installation workshop at the Erie Canal Museum on June 27 with representatives from host sites to learn how the pieces go together. Carol Harsh, Director of the Museum on Main Street Program for the Smithsonian Institution (pictured front right) led the workshop.
The Museum Association of New York is so very proud to announce that last week we helped the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse install Water/Ways, the first Smithsonian Institution Museum on Main Street (MoMS) exhibition in New York State. MoMS exhibitions are designed to share the resources of the Smithsonian and act as catalysts for community conversations. In partnership with state-wide service organizations, MoMS invites small museums to participate in a national exhibition program and create education programs and cultural events that center on local culture and history.
Water/Ways explores the connections between human beings and water—focusing on the environment, culture, and history. Each host museum will add to the Smithsonian’s exhibition with an exhibition from their collections to tell the story of the importance of water in their own communities. MANY has partnered with New York Folklore to develop folk arts programming that will infuse the Water/Ways exhibition with local stories. New York Folklore Director Ellen McHale shared with me what she thought about the importance of our partnership:
“History” is a moving target as it can be what happened 200 years ago, and also what happened 20 years ago. Too often, the lens of history is conceived of narrowly – omitting the voices of women, children, the poor, people of color, immigrants, marginalized groups of all sorts, etc. My goal, and the goals of my folklore and museum colleagues, is to infuse the nationally focused exhibition with local voices, to provide relevance for today’s current audience demographics while including the overarching humanities themes of the exhibition. For the story of water in New York State, it is very important to include the voices of our Native populations who have important connections to water and who have maintained residency in our communities from before European colonization and into the present day. It is also important to include the voices of our most recently-arrived residents.”
There are six museums where you will be able to see the Water/Ways exhibition in the next ten months. To learn more about Water/Ways click here. The exhibition opened to the public at the Erie Canal Museum on June 29 and will open at Wells College in Aurora in partnership with the Aurora Masonic Center and the Village of Aurora Historical Society on August 24, at Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village on October 5, and at the Chapman Museum on November 23. In 2020, the exhibition opens at the Hudson River Maritime Museum on January 11 and at its final New York venue, the East Hampton Historical Society on February 29.
I hope you will find time in your schedule in the coming months to visit these museums, see the exhibition, and participate in the programs. Generous funding and support from our sponsors allowed us to produce a coloring book for family audiences and an app by OnCell that shares information about exhibitions and programs.
New York Folklore opened its exhibition gallery with an exhibition of ebru paintings by Hatice Erbas-Sorkunlu. Hatice Erbas-Sorkunlu is an ebru artist originally from Turkey, currently living in Buffalo. Hatice studied the traditional Turkish tile art of çini at university, and during her studies became interested in ebru. Hatice learned to do ebru while living in Istanbul and later taught traditional Turkish arts to international students at Fasl-ı Bahar, an Islamic College. Hatice has been practicing ebru for 6 years. For this exhibition, Hatice is exhibiting ten framed pieces that illustrate different ebru techniques, with some incorporating Turkish paper cutting.
Erbas-Sorkunlu provided a hands-on ebru workshop for the public and she was in attendance for the exhibition’s opening reception. Her travel and her participatory workshop were made possible by a grant from the Schenectady Initiative Program. The exhibit will be on view through Labor Day 2019.
New York Folklore underwent extensive renovations and building upgrades to open its new exhibition gallery at the end of March. A grant from the William Gundry Broughton Charitable Foundation provided funds to conduct renovations that included floor repair, painting, carpet installation, and the addition of upgraded ambient and track lighting. As part of New York Folklore’s rebranding efforts, the upgrade also included a new sign for the building’s façade.