'Day of the Dead' Exhibit Moves Outdoors in Santa Rosa

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MASK UP Artist Peter Perez stands next to an 8-foot tall mask he has created for the Museum of Sonoma County's outdoor Day of the Dead exhibit. - IMAGE COURTESY JEFF KAN LEE
  • image courtesy Jeff Kan Lee
  • MASK UP Artist Peter Perez stands next to an 8-foot tall mask he has created for the Museum of Sonoma County's outdoor Day of the Dead exhibit.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), celebrated each fall throughout Latin America and especially in Mexico, is a joyous remembrance of family members and loved ones who have passed over the last year. The holiday, which traditionally takes place on November 1 and 2, features a wide range of activities; cemeteries are cleaned and decorated, special food and candies are cooked, and home altars are designed with offerings to the dead.

The Day of the Dead is a popular fixture in the North Bay, with traditional altar decorations and parties popping up in Sonoma and Napa County throughout October and leading up to the holiday in November. For more than two decades, the Museum of Sonoma County in downtown Santa Rosa has marked the occasion with its annual "Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)" exhibition. This year, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum is moving the exhibition outdoors for the the first time ever, presenting the artistic and historical event in the Sculpture Garden from October 22 to November 8.

The outdoor exhibition adapts to the safety and health protocols that the Museum of Sonoma County is committed to following, and the outdoor setting will also parallel the many Day of the Dead observances that take place in Mexican cemeteries and in public community spaces. The exhibit will feature altars and artwork designed and created by acclaimed artists such as Liz Camino-Byers, Scott Daniel Braun, Peter Perez, Mario Uribe, and Martín Zúñigain addition to contributions from community participants.

“The event has been taken back to its original roots and the celebration will be more traditional than ever,” says artist Peter Perez.

While the exhibition includes traditional elements, the altars and artworks created each year often reflect current themes, and this year is no exception. Perez’s installation will include an 8-foot tall mask (pictured), with layers of imagery and meaning, a statement about the current COVID-19 pandemic and a tribute to those who have lost their lives to the virus.

Other artwork on display in the outdoor garden includes Mario Uribe's existing “Peace Tree” sculpture that Uribe has incorporated into his new altar design. Uribe created “Peace Tree” in 2013 through a collaborative project with students from South Korea and Elsie Allen High School, and the work draws comparisons between gang conflicts in Northern California with the Demilitarized Zone in Korea.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought added meaning to everything we do, especially this day,” Uribe says. “Using my ‘Peace Tree’ sculpture as a site for this altar is very appropriate; it was created originally as a collaborative prayer between young people of diverse backgrounds trying to overcome injustice and inequality. In the past, I have created altars that honor specific people whose lives have touched me significantly, Andy Lopez is one of them. This altar is interactive, and people can come and add to it if they feel so moved – out of support and respect for his memory, and as an added prayer for justice and peace.”

In partnership with the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, the "Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)" exhibit also includes handouts for at-home activities such as making paper monarch butterflies and candles. These at-home creations are welcome to be brought to the Museum of Sonoma County to be hung in the Sculpture Garden or placed on the community altar. The exhibit also displays special works made in past years by the museum's Youth+Art students.

This year, artists of all ages are encouraged to submit memory portraits to the exhibit, which will be displayed on the museum's website. Visitors are also invited to participate in the exhibition by contributing miniature altars in a box. The altars can contain copies of photos, traditional offerings such as flowers, LED lights, and other traditional items that contributors are willing to part with or can be exposed to the outdoor environment. Get details on how to submit portraits or altars online.

The Museum of Sonoma County presents "Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)" from Thursday, Oct. 22 to Sunday, Nov. 8. Regular hours, 10am to 1pm; Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 includes evening hours; 4pm to 7pm. 425 Seventh St., Santa Rosa. 707.579.1500. Museumsc.org.

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