Altar Created by Local Artist is a Way for the Community to Connect to Life and Death, as well as One Another
As part of the celebration being created with Hasta La Muerte on Friday, October 28, Chandler Center for the Arts has commissioned local artist Marco Albarran to install a community altar in The Gallery to honor the tradition of Día de los Muertos called, “The Flowering.”
“I really love that the altar reflects the performance of Hasta La Muerte – the traditional and the contemporary,” says Albarran.
When visitors first see the altar, they may be surprised by its shape. It isn’t a traditional altar placed against a wall, but a round pyramid with steps leading to the four cardinal directions – east, west, north and south.
The shape was created for the space to pay tribute to the traditions of pre-colonial celebrations of life and death. The components of that time period are seen on the south side of the altar, which honors indigenous offerings of natural elements, such as fruits, vegetables and water.
The east, west and south side of the altar are set up to reflect a space for the community to incorporate their offerings to loved ones.
“Originally some of the altars were created to honor the ancestors whom sometimes were buried in the house,” says Albarran. “There wasn’t a Day of the Dead as we see today, it was a celebration for the ancestors and the end of the rainy season. They would offer up food on the altars to ask the dead to help during the winter season.”
It is the introduction of the Roman Catholic church to indigenous traditions that put this celebration on the calendar on November 1 and 2 to align with All Souls and All Saints Days.
Where did skeletons come from? Jose Guadalupe Posada, the famous artist and Mexican satire creator, initiated the depictions of skulls and skeletons to mock the corruption of the wealthy and political elite during the end of the 19th century. On the altar in The Gallery, visitors can see contemporary versions of what Posada created during that time.
Other elements on the pyramid include tags with printed skulls on them representing the transformation from life to death. The marigold flowers around the top of the altar represent the celebrations that happen after death.
“Most people don’t know the historical meaning of Día de los Muertos,” says Albarran. “I grew up in the Mexican State of Sonora, and during the Day of the Dead celebrations our family went to the cemetery and spent two or three days at the cemetery. It was simple, we spent days and nights there, honoring the dead. There wasn’t any fear. It was just part of the celebration.”
“I grew up with a deep connection to family,” continues Albarran.
Albarran hopes that when people come to the altar, they will actually have more questions. He wants visitors to look deeper and yearn to understand what the structure of the altar means, what its cardinal directions mean, the symbolic significance of each element, the celebration of life and death.
“The students at Chandler High School have been doing research to expand on the symbols represented in the altar and to better inform visitors,” says Albarran.
The community is encouraged to bring items to place on the altar, photos and objects that have significance. Objects may include sugar skulls, non-perishable food, unopened beverages, paper flowers and unlit candles. There is also a guestbook where visitors can leave notes of tribute to family members how have passed.
Items can be added to the community altar, now through November 1. The Gallery at the CCA is located at 250 N. Arizona Avenue, and is part of the Chandler Center for the Arts building. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday, 12 – 5 p.m.
“I hope this altar helps to create family connections as well as ones within the community,” says Michelle Mac Lennan, General Manager at the CCA. “That is also our hope with the presentation of Hasta La Muerte, a beautiful musical experience created by Las Cafeteras.”