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Celebrating Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated around Milwaukee with annual art exhibitions, workshops and a parade with activities centered around Walker Square Park.

By - Nov 5th, 2013 11:36 am
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Parade participants wear makeup resembling traditional sugar skulls | All parade photos by Sophia Steck

Milwaukee held its fourth annual Dia De Los Muertos Parade this past Friday, November 1, at Walker Square Park. The rainy day didn’t deter the neighborhood from holding the festive celebration. People were encouraged to bring a photo or something special to be included in the community “ofrenda” (altar) that was created in the center of the park. The ofrendas on display were judged by the MATC Latino Studies students and the top three received prizes from local restaurants. The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Kohl’s Family Sundays art mobile helped in setting up the crafts areas and starting the opening ceremony so the procession could begin.

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There was face painting for people of all ages and stations set up to make masks. The All Souls Procession paraded down National Avenue and returned to Walker Square Park where Escamilla Entertainment performed a traditional Aztec/Mexican ceremony. The day ended with a vigil for peace, to honor the deceased. This year the parade and vigil was specifically dedicated to “Los Niños” (The Children).

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Originating as a Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead ceremonies have spread throughout the world and although all activities that take place are not universal, many cultures recognizing it as a time to remember and pray for family and friends who have passed away. Dia de los Muertos is an event that takes place over the span of a few days. The first day, November 1, is known as the “Day of the Innocents”, where children and infants in particular are celebrated. November 2 is the actual Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Family members come together in a joyous manner and remember the times they had with loved ones.

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It is a day to celebrate life and recognize that death is an inevitable part of it.  Alters are created with photos of the deceased, offerings of their favorite food, and items they held dear to them while living. Roots of this tradition date back thousands of years to Aztec festivals which were celebrated in similar ways. They honored the “Lady of the Dead,” also known as the goddess Mictecacihuatl, and focused heavily on the idea that death was something to celebrate instead of fear.

Artwork of Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is a very colorful holiday with the decorations and art of the day easily reflecting that. From ornately decorated ofrendas to paintings and sculptures of Catrinas, sugar skulls and orange Marigolds, artwork of this holiday is on view at several galleries and restaurants in Milwaukee featuring Day of the Dead exhibits this month.

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Walker’s Point Center for the Arts holds an exhibition annually and this year was its 21st showing for Dia de los Muertos. Local art historian Juan Lopez curated the space with traditional and contemporary styled sculptures and 2-D artwork from local artists. This exhibit and holiday recognized death as a celebration of life. Looking at the ofrendas on display, you will get a sense of the story a person’s life without having personally known them. The WPCA exhibit runs through November 16.

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Another annual exhibit is the Latino Arts Day of the Dead Ofrendas which will be on display through November 22. Local and regional artists have created ofrendas in remembrance of their loved ones and includes many personal effects and photographs. Information about the day and this history of it is also on display.

Riviera Maya is participating with Day of the Dead artwork throughout their restaurant. This year the theme is At the Circus, a unique perspective of this holiday and is meant to honor the circus performers who face danger with a smile. The artwork will be on display through November 15.

Cafe La Paloma opened this summer on South 5th Street and has colorful Mexican art and Dia de los Muertos themed artwork on its walls throughout the year. Restaurant owner Jose Chavez is also an artist and much of the art is his own, or pieces from his personal collection he acquired from other artists.

This time of year its starting to get dreary outside, but the colorful artwork of this holiday and the joyous theme of celebrating our loved ones can brighten up anyone’s day.

See below for the full photo gallery from last year’s Dia de los Muertos festivities by Angela Morgan

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