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Muerte sin Fronteras/Death without borders

Mexicans celebrate their ancestors with Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead, a celebration that falls on All Saints and All Souls days of the Catholic calendar, and has roots in indigenous religions. Traditionally, on November 1st and 2nd, Mexicans visit the graves of their friends and relatives, bringing sugar skulls, marigolds, food and blankets to commemorate the dead.

At the heart of the Dia de los Muertos celebration though, is the belief that the dead are not gone, that death has not obliterated these people. The celebration, like many celebrations similar around the world, keeps people alive through memory and story.

The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts celebrates this year’s Day of the Dead with a show, Muerte sin Fronteras/ Death without Borders. At first glance, it seems that the show will simply continue in the vein of the traditional Dia de los Muertos celebration. However, the artists have pulled together an incredible array of alters, both traditional and contemporary, that, by honoring the dead, implore a change in the way we live.

The array of alters lends the gallery a tranquil and reflective atmosphere; each alter, whether personal or political in nature, asks that you sit with it, and reflect on what it presents.

Kate Kokontis’ alter overtly demands reflection. She made the simple alter—a blue cloth with gold ink drawings of plants and some embroidery, photographs of a sugar-cube castle dissolved by the ocean, over-layed with velum—for her friend, Matt Lazarra, who passed away at the age of 22 from cancer. The writing on the velum is his, and he implores the living to assess our lives, and live consciously. He wrote this while dying, when he had a new perspective on his young life and wanted to share his insight with friends and family. Kokontis sees the proper way to honor her friend is to pass his words on, and to live as honestly and consciously as he wished he had before getting cancer. In reading his impassioned plea, it seems that Lazarra suddenly saw life as a journey towards death.

Several artists make pleas for a change in the way we live at a global level, requesting a specific type of conscious, active living. Diana M. Suarez-Vargas, dedicates her alter to an end of femicide. Her alter is a pyramid, crowned with a gory depiction of a man stabbing a woman, whose tears and blood cascade down the steps of the alter, which is decorated with images of girls and women, seemingly, the viewer’s sisters, daughters, wives, mothers. The alter is a global plea, though it specifically addresses Guatemala, which just passed a law against femicide, and Ciudad Juarez, a small border city of international renown for the massive number of women murdered there. Her alter begs us to transcend borders and heal the violence against women—to honor this life, now.

Several other alters ask us to look closer at political themes, often through the artist’s own loss. Laila Espinoza’s Love and Death and Borders, and José Lizarraga’s Santa Frontera, both deal with the politics of US-Mexican border crossings through the personal experiences of their ancestors. Other alters pull us all in to examine our lives and losses, and to look beyond this life through a variety of different religions, beliefs and traditions. In the end, it seems that by remembering the dead, we examine our own lives, and honor them best by how we choose to live.

The exhibition at the Mission Cultural Center offers a reflective way to finish off your Day of the Dead Celebrations. The gala opening will have theater, arts and crafts, traditional Day of the Dead bread and chocolate on Sunday, November 2, beginning at 6pm. $5 (admission for children is free)

Muerto sin Fronteras/ Death without Borders
Open October 23 through November 22, 2008.
Tuesday through Friday 10am-5pm. Saturdays 10am-10pm.
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
2868 Mission St @ 25th Street.