By Sally Douglas Arce
Day of the Dead celebrations have their origin in this country in Mexican and Mexican American traditions. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, African Americans and people of other ethnicities participate in the Day of the Dead.
They have found the holiday to be an important way to celebrate and be grateful to life and to honor the spirits of the dead.
Bay Area African American artists have participated in Day of the Dead exhibits for almost two decades.
The Day of the Dead 2013 exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center includes traditional altars and multi-dimensional art installations by more than 80 Bay Area artists.
The “Imagining Time, Gathering Memory” exhibition is on view Saturday, Oct. 12 through Saturday, Nov. 9 at SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St., San Francisco.
There is free admission during gallery hours Tuesday–Friday, 12 p.m. –7 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. The exhibit is dedicated to those whose lives have been affected by cancer.
Rashida James-Saadiya, an African American artist who lives in Oakland, has created an installation in homage to Trayvon Martin and particularly his parents and family.
The installation includes child’s chair on which a photo of Trayvon when he graduated from kindergarten is placed. A handmade frame with beads and fabric from Ghana holds Trayvon’s photo. The ” Golden Stool” is a sacred symbol of the Ashanti nation, believed to possess the memory and spirit of its owner.
In front of the chair, she has placed a Ndebele doll, which in Africa is often used to teach and is for remembrance and ritual purposes. Dolls are handmade and traditionally handed down through generations.
“The doll represents Trayvon’s mother guarding his spirit, guarding his chair,” says James-Saadiya of her hand-made doll. “I want to address the fact that children are being removed from society far too soon. The impact on the family and the community was seldom addressed.”
She wants people seeing her piece to ask, “What are the conversations we need to have in the community so that senseless deaths don’t happen?”
Michael Ross and sculptural furniture artist William Rhodes have worked collaboratively with about 75 youth (ages 5-13) attending art classes at three San Francisco schools.
Rhodes is an art instructor employed by the “Dare to Dream” program at the Bayview Opera House. “I wanted to build an altar inspired by home and a sense of place that represents the memories over time of each student’s family and larger community,” Rhodes says.
Each student has created small houses of varying sizes, painting and decorating them, as well as placing personal items inside the mini-house. One girl, who is Chinese American and attends Portola School, has included her baby blanket, favorite toys, and family photos in her home.
Oakland based conceptual and installation artist Candi Farlice has created a large flower using beeswax, copper wire, paper and scent. “It represents a flower that has been picked and is beginning to deteriorate,” Farlice, who is African American, says.
“The flower represents the process of death. We are all alive, but at the same time, we are dying some each day. Each stage of that is beautiful in its own way.”
The “Imagining Time, Gathering Memory” exhibit includes special events. The opening reception takes place from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11 and features the all women’s band Las Bomberas de la Bahia and dancer Paloma McFly.
Gathering the Embers: A Día de los Muertos Tribute Show, from 7 p.m.–9:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 25, features multi-disciplinary performers presenting an evening of story and performance.
The closing reception, which is from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9, will include live music, a Day of the Dead artists’ market and an opportunity to interact with the exhibit for the last time.
When there is no special event, there is no charge for admission to the gallery. For more information, visit www.somarts.org or call (415) 863-1414.