The Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival in Fruitvale brought over 60,000 people together on October 29 to celebrate the Mexican holiday honoring those who have passed. The festival, organized by The Unity Council, commissions local artists and community members to create altars—installations with photos, art and offerings that commemorate the deceased.
Artist: Alicia Diaz
Name of altar: Between Life & Death, We Remember
“Every year I get a large skull and this year I wanted to show them all together. Each one is from a different year. I love people coming and joining me in the creation. At the end of the day I’m already going to be thinking about what I’ll do next year,” says Alicia Diaz.
The statement in front of the altar read: “This altar is dedicated to all the people who have visited my altar throughout the last 12 years. You have contributed by honoring your ancestors by placing their names on these large, golden skulls. Now I’m dedicating this altar in their memory and thanking you for your support. I feel privileged that people have graciously participated numerous years and I hope to continue to create, honor, and keep this tradition ongoing. Thank you for creating with me.”
Artist: Daniel Camacho
Name of altar: A Los Fallecidos a Causa del Cambio Climático | The ones that passed away due to climate change
“The altar is about climate change. It’s about how mother earth takes care of both life and death. The piece is about duality—between life and death, day and night. Every year I create a symbol on the ground—I’m a painter but this work brings me to the ground. The ground is where we live, where I belong, where my roots are,” says Daniel Camacho.
Artist: Fabian Marquez
Name of altar: Spiral of Life
The statement placed in the altar read: “I draw a lot of inspiration from my culture, its mythologies, symbolism, and rich traditions. In this piece, Spiral of Life, the Papel Picado, representing air which carries the voice of the ancestors, frames the top. Their eyes are both oval and square, representing feminine and masculine qualities. The four colors are the indigenous colors for the four elements. The mother skull breathes life into the infinite spiral of life, showing how death and life are intimately and infinitely connected.”
Artist: Gonzalo Hidalgo
Name of altar: Daca Open Heart | Daca Corazon Abierto
“This year I am focused on DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]. Our community has been very affected by DACA. I wanted to express that—the need for people to remain here. It’s also interactive; the skull drawings in the sand are filled in by people using dried beans and flowers. I live a block from here and I always like to participate in the festival. It’s a way for our community to manifest what we’re about. It’s cultural resistance. I saw a few parents explaining to their kids what DACA is. That was my commitment to art and experience and community participation,” says Gonzalo Hidalgo.
Artists: Victor Martinez, Sita Bhaumik and Luis Balthazar
Name of altar: El Viaje | The Journey
El Viaje is a collaboration between the artists of the project Estamos Contra el Muro | We Are Against the Wall.
“We wanted to commemorate people who did not make the journey here. There are two sides to the journey—the physical which is represented here by the water jugs, the shoes, the train and the wall. There is the mental journey too, represented by the Virgin of Soledad who represents faith and solitude,” says artist Sita Bhaumik.
The statement placed in front of the altar read: “El Viaje is an altar representing the journey to cross the US/Mexico border and arrive in Oakland. Each level honors an element of the journey, and includes la bestia, (“the beast,” the train that runs through Mexico), the river, and offerings of food to fuel border crossings, including—most importantly— water. At the top of the altar, the tree of life appears in the shape of the Oakland oak tree, symbolizing the end of the journey. In memory of the hundreds of anonymous people who die attempting to cross the border each year, these marigolds represent their life.”
Artist: Teresa Cortes
Name of altar: Yei Mikailuitl
“The altar honors indigenous traditions and is in memory of my father. The flowers are meant to bring his spirit back through their essence or smell. The spirits can smell everything. He died seven years ago, but he still lives in my heart and mind,” says Teresa Cortes.