Art exhibit explores origins of Dia de los Muertos

Monica Thaller's piece “Celebration of Transformation” is on display at the annual Dia de Los Muertos exhibition, “Cempasúchil: Instruments of the Wind,” at the Ontario Museum of History and Art. The theme of this year’s exhibit is the Mexican marigold, cempasúchil, and will run through Nov. 27. / photo by Camille C.Nan
Monica Thaller’s piece “Celebration of Transformation” is on display at the annual Dia de Los Muertos exhibition, “Cempasúchil: Instruments of the Wind,” at the Ontario Museum of History and Art. The theme of this year’s exhibit is the Mexican marigold, cempasúchil, and will run through Nov. 27. / photo by Camille C.Nan

Samira Felix
Staff Writer 

Vibrant colored walls, paintings, ofrendas, photos and sculptures made up the Ontario Museum of History and Art’s 24th Dia de Los Muertos exhibit, “Cempasúchil: Instruments of the Wind.”

Dia de Los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday that celebrates the dead through ofrendas, which are decorated offerings like candles, flowers and food that are thought to draw the spirits of deceased ancestors back to their loved ones. It is celebrated on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. 

This year’s exhibition focuses on the Cempasúchil, also known as the marigold flower and how it relates to the traditions of Dia de Los Muertos. 

The Cempasúchil, a bright orange and yellow colored flower, is believed to illuminate the night so that spirits do not get lost during their journey. The museum related the Cempasúchil to music because they both draw people in. 

Leslie S. Matamoros, curator of exhibitions at the museum said they wanted to explore the origins of Dia de Los Muertos, so they asked artists to think about the Cempasúchil while creating their artwork. 

“We asked the artists to think about the Cempasúchil and other symbols like the hummingbird and the butterfly so you will see a lot of that imagery in the pieces in the exhibit,” Matamoros said. 

A girl in traditional face paint stands next to Frank Carrillo's piece “Monarca Azul” at the opening reception of the annual Dia de Los Muertos exhibition at the Ontario Museum of History and Art on Saturday. The exhibit teaches the significance of the Mexican marigold, called cempasúchil, and run through through Nov. 27. / photo by Camille C.Nan
A girl in traditional face paint stands next to Frank Carrillo’s piece “Monarca Azul” at the opening reception of the annual Dia de Los Muertos exhibition at the Ontario Museum of History and Art on Saturday. The exhibit teaches the significance of the Mexican marigold, called cempasúchil, and run through through Nov. 27. / photo by Camille C.Nan

Upon walking in, guests are greeted with a vibrant yellow wall, on the right side of the room there is the “Instruments of the Wind Community Installation.” Visitors are allowed to sit under the wind chimes that were created by the community to reflect on memories of loved ones. 

Along the walls of the first room was art made with different materials like fabric, paper mache, acrylic paint, watercolor, and digital illustrations. 

In the exhibition’s second room, the walls are bright colors that showcase various artists. As guests walk in, they are able to see an orange wall with the name of the exhibition and eight pieces of artwork that feature the cempasúchil, skulls, butterflies, a dog, a kitchen and a skeleton.

54 artists participated in this year’s exhibition. Jessica Cruz, returning artist featured in the second room, said she knew she wanted to incorporate music into her piece “Music is Life itself” when she found out the theme was the Cempasúchil.  

“I wanted to involve music because I wanted people to remember their loved ones by the music they listen to, whether it’s a certain scent or a smell you are quick to conjure up a memory from just a piece of music or your favorite food,” Cruz said. “I think memory and giving it a platform for some people to remember their loved ones and keep that memory alive definitely helps them find the joy within death even though they are still grieving.”

The third room of the exhibition had blue, yellow and cream-colored walls, was filled with different types of artwork, sculptures and two ofrendas. 

The first ofrenda is by the SNHS Rancho Cucamonga High School. It is a traditionally decorated ofrenda with photographs in honor of celebrities who have passed away like Jenni Rivera, Selena Quintanilla and Frida Kahlo. 

The second ofrenda, “Remembering the Hearts of Uvalde” is by artist Marylucille Nunez-Delira honoring the 21 lives lost in the Uvalde, Texas school shooting tragedy that happened on May 24. It is decorated with cempasúchil flowers, tamales, conchas, candles, skulls, and school supplies. The wall above is decorated with 22 flaming hearts surrounding a centerpiece with 22 butterflies and 22 roses. 

Marrisa Kucheck, director of museum arts and culture, said she understands that ofrendas are oftentimes personal, but she wanted to give artists a space where everyone could grieve. 

“There is so much collective grief that we as a society have experienced over the last few years, so I think it is important to have a space for that collective grief,” Kucheck said. 

The installation of the exhibition takes up to three and a half weeks. 

Riea Owens's piece “Calendulas y Mariposas: The Flora and the Fauna” is on display at the annual Dia de Los Muertos exhibition, “Cempasúchil : Instruments of the Wind,” at the Ontario Museum of History and Art. This year’s edition of the annual exhibit focuses on the Mexican marigold, “cempasúchil,” and will run through Nov. 27. / photo by Camille C.Nan
Riea Owens’s piece “Calendulas y Mariposas: The Flora and the Fauna” is on display at the annual Dia de Los Muertos exhibition, “Cempasúchil : Instruments of the Wind,” at the Ontario Museum of History and Art. This year’s edition of the annual exhibit focuses on the Mexican marigold, “cempasúchil,” and will run through Nov. 27. / photo by Camille C.Nan

“Everyone is really involved,” Samantha Herrera, assistant curator at the museum, said. “We are all in there at some point doing all this work to create this exhibit to really give them an experience and not just that, but to liven up everyone’s work to look like ‘a million bucks’ once you put that lighting on it it’s just perfect.”

Matamoros said she thinks the exhibition shows the cultural beauty of Dia de Los Muertos, not only visually, but emotionally because they are asking people to do something that might not feel natural to them. 

“Instead of grieving to celebrate them, you’re honoring and embracing them in color, vibrant flowers, with food and music,” Matamoros said. “I know this might be foreign to others, but to ask them to look at death in a different way that is what I enjoy and I think that is what the exhibit kind of teaches visitors to do.”

Herrera said she hopes the exhibition teaches visitors about Dia de Los Muertos and how it is about celebrating a person’s life and not death. 

“I think it does a really good job of bringing people in who are maybe not very familiar with it,” said Natalie Komuro, continuum of Care Manager at the Ontario Community Life and Culture Agency. “I think it teaches people what Dia de los Muertos means to people who celebrate it.”

“Cempasúchil: Instruments of the Wind” will be on display through Nov. 27. The Ontario Museum of History and Art is located at 225 S. Euclid Ave. Admission is free and open to the public on Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. 

For more information visit, ontariomuseum.org/currentexhibitions

Samira Felix can be reached at samira.felix@laverne.edu.

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Samira Felix, a junior journalism major with a concentration in print-online journalism, is news editor for the Campus Times. She previously served as a staff writer.

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Camille C.Nan is a sophomore photography major who specializes in portraiture. She is a staff photographer for Campus Times and La Verne Magazine.

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