Day of the Dead: The Journey Home

I’m a participating artist in Dia de los Muertos: The Journey Home, the nineteenth annual Day of the Dead exhibition at Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art. I’m honored that the institution chose to exhibit my oil painting Dia de los Muertos in its group show of forty artists from across the U.S. and Mexico. This is the nation’s biggest Day of the Dead art exhibition, and it’s being held in the largest Latino arts institution in the country.

“Dia de los Muertos.” Mark Vallen. Oil on wood panel. 2003.

The museum presents works by artists from both sides of the border, and it has been the cultural heart for that community since its founding in 1982. Since its inauguration the institution has become a world class museum. In 1990 it presented the very last solo exhibition that famed Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo would hold in his lifetime, and in 1992 the museum signed a historic sister-museum agreement with El Museo del Templo Mayor (the fabulous archeological museum in Mexico City that holds all artifacts from the main Aztec Temple).

It was originally the indigenous people of Mexico who honored the dead through ritual celebrations. The Aztecs held festivals of the dead that were presided over by the Queen of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead). After the conquest of Mexico by the Conquistadors, Spanish priests found that they could not eradicate the religious practices of the subjugated Aztecs, so they co-opted and Christianized them. The church moved the date when the Indians celebrated the dead (late July and early August), to coincide with the Catholic Día de Todos Santos, or All Saints Day (celebrated during the first two days of November.)

The festival retains much of its original indigenous character, and its enchanting appeal continues to attract new adherents. Dia de los Muertos: The Journey Home, runs from September 23rd, 2005 to December 11th, 2005. The museum is located at 1852, West 19th Street, Chicago Illinois 60608. Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum’s website.

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