A new exhibit celebrating the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Day) has opened in the Ann Maners and Alex Pappas Gallery in the Fine Arts Building showcasing Mexican culture and international migration.
Día de los Muertos is an annual holiday practiced by the indigenous communities of Mexico starting on October 31st through November 2nd that celebrates the return of the souls of deceased loved ones back to the Earth. Families celebrate by laying flower petals, candles and offerings along the path leading from the cemetery where their loved ones are buried to their homes. The deceased’s favorite dishes are prepared and placed around the home shrine and the tomb alongside flowers and typical handicrafts, such as paper cut-outs, according to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“The Day of the Dead celebration holds great significance in the life of Mexico’s indigenous communities,” UNESCO said on their website. “The fusion of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Catholic feasts brings together two universes, one marked by indigenous belief systems, the other by worldviews introduced by the Europeans in the sixteenth century.”
The altar in the Fine Arts Building was designed and created by artist Patricia Quilantán, the wife of the Mexican Consul Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas across the street from UA Little Rock, with some help from the Consulate staff and a few UA Little Rock students. It took seven days to complete the altar, working from early in the morning to late at night, even working as late as midnight.
“This year we decided to honor the migrants from all over the world,” Quilantán said. “That’s why I display that picture in the center. No racial stereotypes or faces, it’s just people there because all over the world, people migrate and go to other places.”
Quilantán doesn’t like dealing with politics, but she wanted to display a clear message of love and unity with this year’s altar.
“Building walls, building obstacles, they don’t allow people to keep in touch,” she said. “I wanted to display some sad colors to tell the sadness and suffering of the families and relatives separated that makes it impossible for a father to stay in touch with their kids.”
From little paper Monarch butterflies, which travel from Canada to sanctuaries in Mexico in late October and early November, scattered around, to a family of immigrants with suitcases, the message of celebrating migrants is clear, but two little girls off to the right side of the altar conveys an entirely different message.
“The two little girls of different sizes, different ages, different races, different everything, holding a bouquet of flowers together symbolizes friendship between different cultures,” Quilantán said.
Quilantán has been designing Día de los Muertos altars for 13 years now; five years in Guayaquil, Ecuador, six years in Brownsville, Texas, and two years here in Arkansas.
“I like to be always involving cultural things and supporting all that promotes any culture because when you learn from other cultures, you develop more interest in knowing the world around you,” she said. “You learn so you can understand other people and you break out of your shell so you can share your own culture, too.”
Coming from a Mexican family, Quilantán has been celebrating Día de los Muertos all her life. She has even built a smaller altar in her own home to honor her father and her other loved ones who have passed.
“For me, the Day of the Dead means honoring the people who have passed away,” she said. “It means hope, it means faith, and it means spirituality.”
The Día de los Muertos altar exhibit is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. until Nov. 16 in the Ann Maners and Alex Pappas Gallery in the Fine Arts Building.