dA Center honors late artist via ofrenda and exhibit

Dawn Varela
Staff Writer

The dA Center for the Arts hosted a Dia de los Muertos event with a special altar honoring the late artist Raul Pizarro as part of an exhibition of his final artwork, “El Tianguis” on Nov. 2.

“Today was our first attempt to continue his legacy … and to begin harvesting the seeds of his legacy,” event organizer Sergio Marin Luna said of the artist who died in May of 2022.

The Pomona-based dA Center is a non-profit that supports and shows the work of local artists across media. 

The event began with a special performance by a Mariachi band.

“We had planned to create an altar last year, but we never got the chance,” said Manny Morrison, a friend of Pizarro. 

Maria Pizarro, Raul Pizarro’s sister-in-law and Morrison worked on the altar, which included candles painted with glitter, skeleton dolls and large monarch butterflies. A large picture of Pizarro stood in the middle surrounded by roses and other flowers shaped into a heart. There were also marigolds spread across the floor to help guide those remembered inside to the altar. 

Raul Pizarro was a queer Latinx visual artist with muscular dystrophy. His art pieces focused on community, culture and accessibility for those with disabilities.

In 2021, Pizarro received a grant from the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures to create a piece that represents the theme of reclaiming the border narrative. 

His final artwork, “El Tianguis” was created to honor and share the stories of migrant workers in local swap meets as his parents work at the swap meet as well. 

He had interviewed seven swap meet vendors for his project before he died, and although he was not able to finish the project, his family members and friends did their best to finish the project for him. 

“After his death, I thought that (“El Tianguis”) was not going to happen,” Bertha Hernandez Hernandez, a swap meet vendor featured in Pizarro’s project, said in Spanish.

“El Tianguis” is composed of seven handprint sculptures, each with a portrait of a vendor inside. The fingers of the hand print had flowers, music notes and soccer balls made from clay. Each vendor on the handprints was interviewed and recorded by Pizarro and Luna, and then edited to an audio recording for guests to listen to. Then located on the center of the floor was an unfinished handmade retablo, an altar, which was sketched on the doors and the inside. The doors showed what was supposed to be made up of clay flowers and three illustrations of symbols of different kinds of vendors from the swap meet. 

Hernandez Hernandez has been selling party decorations and antiques at a swap meet in Chino for over 22 years. She pursued this work to support her kids, she said.

During the presentation of “El Tianguis,” Luna played a minute-long audio recording of Pizarro explaining the project.

“It is basically reclaiming the dignity of telling your own stories,” Pizarro said in the audio recording. “Because there’s a lot of misconceptions of Latinos and Hispanics. And that’s why it’s important to have those sincere conversations.” 

 Hearing his voice describing the work was emotional for some in the audience.

“It is so important that we come together to grieve together and to remember him together,” said Olivia Alatorre, board member for the dA Center.

Luna and Maria Pizarro plan on archiving all of Pizarro’s pieces, as only 60% of his work is currently on display. 

For more information, visit dacenter.org

Dawn Varela can be reached at dawn.varela@laverne.edu.

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