By Randi Bjornstad
Some things will be familiar — the music, dancing, and the food — when the Maude Kerns Art Center opens its 23rd annual Dia de Los Muertos Exhibit with a reception at 6 p.m. on Oct. 14. But as always, the artwork on display will be fresh and new, some created by artists who have been in past shows and many who are new to Eugene’s version of the tradition this year.
The center put out an international call to artists, and the work of 33, representing four states in this country and Oaxaca in Mexico, were chosen, in the form of painting, sculpture, mixed media and photography.
There also will be several renditions of the traditional altars that people in Mexico create to commemorate the lives and deaths of their dearly departed, installed here by individuals or community groups to express their visions of the popular holiday.
In Mexico, Dia de Los Muertos — literally “Day of the Dead” — is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, corresponding with the All Saints and All Souls days that grew out of European custom.
But Dia de Los Muertos, which was designated as an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2008, probably is more fun.
Dedicated to the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl, it celebrates rather than mourns those who have gone before, with slightly macabre images of skulls and skeletons — often rendered in sugar candy — along with altars that blend the religious and secular, lots of funereal flowers and visits to gravesides with gifts and favorite foods of dead relatives and friends, whose spirits are believed to return to participate in the revelry.
The artwork in the exhibit commemorates all these aspects of the holiday. Judges this year included painter Samuel Becerra, who work previously has been shown in the annual exhibit; local painter John Jay Cruson, who frequently visits Mexico; and Thalia Lerin, who also has been a regular participant in past Dia de Los Muertos exhibits.
Some of the entries in the show include three whimsical paintings by Eugene artist Melissa Sikes, depicting Dia de Los Muertos themes in the context of the Eugene Marathon, Saturday Market and Owen Rose Garden.
Another Eugene artist, Rocio Diaz, who grew up in Puerto Vallarta, has five pieces in the show representing a traditional art form called “repujado,” created by hammering a relief pattern forward from the back side of a thin sheet of tin or copper.
People who attend the reception, which runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Oct. 14, are encouraged to come in costume. Two $50 cash prizes will be awarded for the get-ups that best represent the spirit of Dia de Los Muertos.
The reception also will feature Mexican regional dances performed by Ballet Folklorico Alma de Mexico, a group of youthful dancers under the direction of Monica Olvera.
The exhibit will be open through Nov. 4 at the center at 1910 E. 15th Ave. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
For information, call 541-345-1571 or go online to mkartcenter.org.