Thu 10/26 @ 6-9PM
When it comes to Halloween celebrations, spooky skulls and skeletons are de rigueur. However, the latter aren’t just tied to the trick-or-treat holiday. There’s also the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, which is part of the art and culture south of the border.
Someone who is enthralled by the cultural aspect of the Day of the Dead tradition is Lakeland Community College Gallery Coordinator and Exhibition Curator Mary Urbas with her biennial exhibition The Skull and Skeleton in Art V: Folk Art to Pop Culture running now through Fri 11/3 at The Gallery of Lakeland.
In addition to the ongoing exhibit, an artist reception, costume party and Boneyard Market is slated for Thu 11/26 at the Kirtland venue. CoolCleveland talked to Urbas about bones and celebrating the dead.
CoolCleveland: Let’s go back to 2009 with the first exhibition, what’s the impetus for The Skull and Skeleton in Art V: Folk Art to Pop Culture?
Mary Urbas: The original impetus was finding a way to entice the students at the college to come to see more of the gallery shows. That’s really what started it. I’ve been a big fan of Mexican folk art. I’m a fan of Dia de los Muertos, I visited Mexico in the mid ’90s, and I’ve been collecting skull and skeleton items. The very first year I did it, I had a gentleman talk about the Day of the Dead and some of the activities. Two years later I had Hector Castellanos-Lara come and speak. He’s the guy who organizes the big event over on the west side. He spoke in 2011 about the Day of the Dead and the customs. He showed images of his event he organizes at Gordon Square every year. It’s the largest Dia de los Muertos event in Ohio. That’s been going on for years. This year it’s Saturday October 28.
CC: What is it about the scary Dia de los Muertos that appeals to you?
MU: Not so much the scary stuff. I really did want to turn them on to Mexican folk art and the whole skull and skeleton culture. It’s not a Halloween show, not about witches and goblins and ghosts. It’s about skeleton art. It’s not about drippy bloody skulls. It’s really about celebrating the Day of the Dead. It’s about showing homage to your loved ones that have passed away. Day of the Dead is similar to the Christian holiday of All Saints/All Souls Day. They just honor their dead differently. They set up altars with different things that have very specific symbolism and significance. They decorate the cemeteries and they all gather on November 1 and 2 in the hope the dead will come back and visit them.
CC: How is The Skull and Skeleton in Art V: Folk Art to Pop Culture received?
MU: They love it. Every year they tell me this is the best year yet. This year people told me they think this is the best collection. I started with 18 artists in 2009 and the event has grown to over 100 artists this year from all over the country. The whole skull culture is kind of an undercurrent culture. It’s become quite a big thing, attracting people who are into tattoos and skateboard culture. To me it’s all about the mental. Remember, we all must die and the fact that the Mexican culture kind of laughs at death. No one gets out alive. And then in the United States, it’s almost taboo. You don’t talk about death. It’s something that’s inevitable. The minute you take your first breath, you’re going to die. Not to be morbid, that’s kind of the reality of that.
CC: That reminds me of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” with the famous lyric “The future’s uncertain/The end is always near.”
MU: Exactly, there you go. That’s true. You never know what’s going to happen. You want to live a good life because you never know, the next moment might be your last breath.
CC: Finally, what’s the biggest misconception about Dia de los Muertos and your exhibit?
MU: The biggest misconception is that people think that it’s a Halloween event. And it’s not. It’s skulls and skeletons, but again you’re not going to see jack-o-lanterns or ghosts or witches. It’s about the skull and skeleton. And the bottom line is, we all have one. Every human has a skeleton under their skin. That’s one of the universal things. I think people of all ages will enjoy the exhibit. It’s kind of a family event.