Detroit museum’s exhibition honors Día de los Muertos

A Mexican papier-mache Dia de los Muertos skull. Image courtesy Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

DETROIT – The Detroit Institute of Arts, in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate of Detroit, will display 12 ofrenda altars, or offerings, created by local artists from Saturday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Nov. 8, in celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which honors the life and memory of lost loved ones. This year’s display, “Ofrendas: Celebrating el Día de Muertos,” marks the eighth consecutive year of the popular program.

The annual exhibition, designed to familiarize visitors with ofrendas and the Day of the Dead tradition, builds a sense of community as visitors identify with the reasons and ways people honor the deceased while collectively taking part in the act of remembering. Expanding every year, the display has become one of the DIA’s most popular exhibitions.

“Detroit has a vibrant Mexican American community and honoring this important cultural and artistic tradition is just one of the ways we are working toward bringing all members of our communities together,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “Visitors from all backgrounds will make their own personal connections to each of these ofrendas, as well as to the local artists who created them.”

This year, 27 proposals were submitted from local artists and 12 were selected to be on display. All submissions were juried by a selection committee of DIA staff and local community members of Mexican heritage. A 13th altar, featuring objects and decorations arranged on tables submitted by DIA staff as well as projected images of lost loved ones submitted by the public via social media, will act as a community ofrenda, a place for DIA visitors to grieve collectively, especially in light of the loss in our communities due to COVID-19. Within the exhibition, the museum will formally recognize the impact of COVID-19 on our region and globally.

The subjects of the ofrendas vary greatly – some honor a personal loss of the artist, while others honor communal loss, highlighting current events and political issues.

One of the 12 participating artists, Leonardo Hernandez, created an ofrenda to honor Mexican musicians Juan “Juanga” Gabriel and Chavela Vargas who were known for opening the door to greater expression of gender and sexuality in the music industry.

Hernandez shared some insights on his ofrenda design: “This year I … wanted to send my people a message, in hopes of growth as a culture, as a group of people. (I am) hoping that (visitors) become aware that death is part of life and nature, as well as being Two-Spirit is part of life and diversity is part of nature.”

New this year will be a digital exhibition experience for those not able to visit the museum. Using an interface similar to GoogleMaps, viewers will be able to “walk-through” the exhibition and view each altar and the accompanying interpretative labels from home.

DIA admission tickets can be reserved online in advance at www.dia.org or by calling 313-833-4005. Tickets are be timed to control attendance levels so a limited number of tickets will be available for each time slot. Admission is free for residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.