October 30, 2013

Celebrate the Art of Life at AAC’s 10th Annual Day of the Dead Celebration!

Dana Ellyn. Dia de los Muertos (de America).  2013. Oil and acrylic on canvas. 24x30 in.
Dana Ellyn
Dia de los Muertos (de America), 2013
Oil and acrylic on canvas. 24×30 in.

With the celebration of Halloween upon us, you’ve likely been indulging in the holiday spirit.  Scary movies and haunted houses are easily found, as so many of us enjoy the spookier aspects of the season, because, there is a playful confrontation with fear, especially the fears of death, darkness, and uncertainty.  But there’s a holiday that directly follows Halloween that is a joyous celebration of the lives of the deceased, with no association with mourning or dread of mortality.

AAC is thrilled to celebrate this holiday, for the tenth consecutive year, this Friday, November 1, from 6-8 p.m., at a free all-ages event.  Here, you’ll learn about the history of this important Latin holiday and see how we are choosing to celebrate this year.

Matt Sesow, "Day of the Dead, riding a chicken," 2013. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 18x24 in.
Matt Sesow
“Day of the Dead, riding a chicken,” 2013
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 18×24 in.


How We’re Celebrating:

We have plenty of colorful activities planned for our free, all-ages celebration of life on Friday, November 1, from 6-8 p.m. The festivities will feature a live mariachi band with plenty of dancing by De Colores Mexican Folk Dance Company.  The performance begins at 6:30 p.m. and will transition into dance lessons!

At the heart of the excitement, there will be an exhibition of artworks by more than 10 local artists examining the Day of the Dead theme. This exhibition has been coordinated year after year by David Amoroso. About this year’s exhibition he said, “We’ve made a concerted effort to identify artists with different styles, to have a variety of styles from edgy street art to more traditional work.”

Artists featured in this year’s exhibition include Amoroso, Dana Ellyn, Ric Garcia, Jeannette Herrera, Nicolas de Jesus, Carlos Lara, Claudia and Sergio Olivos, Orlando Sanchez, Matt Sesow, Gloria Valdes “Tarasca”, Ivan Mendizabal Nuffio.

Amoroso went on to talk more about the collaborative aspect of the exhibition, saying, “It’s particularly exciting for me because for the first time I’m able to collaborate with other visual artists and include their work and their interpretation of the holiday. The collection of artists is unique, because they’re not all Mexican or even Latino, but they do have a connection to the holiday.”

Sergio Olivos. Mictecacihuatl. 2013. Encaustic on wood. 12x24 in.
Sergio Olivos
Mictecacihuatl. 2013.
Encaustic on wood. 12×24 in.

Thanks to our co-sponsors at Arlington Sister City there will be pan de los muertos and Mexican hot chocolate to enjoy. And if you are hungrier for a larger meal, Rito Loco will be in the parking lot serving up their signature creative burritos.  Having recently been voted First Place in Washington City Paper’s Best of D.C. as the Best Food Truck, we highly recommend you try them.

Additionally, there will be a Day of the Dead workshop for children ages 11 to 14 immediately before the main event.  Students will learn about the history and customs of the day then learn printmaking techniques incorporating holiday imagery. Registration is required for the workshop, but both the workshop and main event are free!

We will also have a number of art projects for all-ages taking place throughout the night so don’t fret if you’re too old, young, or just can’t make it to this workshop for teens.  We look forward to seeing you and celebrating life at the Day of the Dead Celebration this Friday!

Nicolas de Jesus Celebrando (detail with reflection). 2012. Print on Amate paper. 13.5x23 in.
Nicolas de Jesus
Celebrando (detail with reflection). 2012.
Print on Amate paper. 13.5×23 in.

History of the Holiday:

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated in most localities on November 1 and 2.  Primarily celebrated in Mexico and parts of the United States and Central America, the festivities vary according to local cultures, as regions reflect their values in the ways they adapt the rituals.

Typically, on November 1, deceased infants and children, often referred to as angelitos (or little angels), are remembered with love, and on the following day, deceased adults are honored.  During these days, the departed are believed to have divine permission to enjoy the pleasures of life once again and visit family and friends on earth.

In this way, the living facilitate the arrival of their loved ones by adorning the graves.   Literally translated as “offerings:” ofrendas are built as altars where candles, flowers, momentos, food, and drinks are placed.  You will often see pan de los muertos, or “bread of the dead”, baked into shapes and papel picado, or “punched paper” placed on the altar as gifts and decorations.

At our celebration, you’ll see an example of one of these altars decorated by local artist David Amoroso and other community members as well as colorful papel picado.

In the Sixteenth Century, Day of the Dead traditions began to take shape as a result of the contact between Aztec religion and Spanish Catholicism.  When the Conquistadors arrived on Aztec land and witnessed the natives practicing rituals that displayed skulls, the Spaniards deemed the custom to be sacrilegious and barbaric.  To the Aztecs, death was a continuation of life that should be embraced, as they would become truly awake in passing.

Gloria Valdes, My Past My Future. 1992. Oil. 20x24 in.
Gloria Valdes
My Past My Future. 1992.
Oil. 20×24 in.

The Spaniards unsuccessfully attempted to eradicate the 3,000 year old ritual, and when they saw the difficulty in doing so, they decided to move the holiday to All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to make the ritual more Christian.  Over the 500 years that followed, Day of the Dead festivities have spread geographically, as the playful proximity to death and cheerful celebration of the lives of loved ones attract many.

Further explore the history and traditions of Day of the Dead

“Feasts – Mexico 2 of 3 – BBC Culture Documentary – Dia de los Muertos” 

“Feasts – Mexico 3 of 3 – BBC Culture Documentary – Dia de los Muertos” 

-Written by Natalia Almada, AAC’s Exhibition Intern

Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics

UPCOMING: Opens June 15, 2024

Curated by Al Miner

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington is proud to present Golden: Fifty Years of New Classics, an exhibition celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary.

Summer Camp Registration

June 17 – August 16

Museum of Contemporary Art Arlington offers a wonderful and wide range of creative summer camps for your creative students! Camps are offered for kids starting at age 5 and up to teens ages 18.

Zaq Landsberg: Reclining Liberty

August 5, 2023 - July 28, 2024

Front Lawn
MoCA Arlington and Arlington Public Art are thrilled to co-sponsor the installation of Zaq Landsberg’s celebrated Reclining Liberty on the Museum’s front lawn.