Love, in all its shapes and colors, is the unifying theme of the Día de los Muertos art exhibition


How can love be transmitted from generation to generation? This is a question that SOMArts explores in its 2022 exhibition of works on or inspired by Día de los Muertos, To love and be loved back. The show, which opens on Friday, October 7, is the first public unveiling of the Day of the Dead gallery’s annual exhibition since 2019.

The display of colorful offeredor altars, is curated by longtime exhibition curator and SOMArts Día de los Muertos artist Rio Yañez and early curator and singer-songwriter Anaís Azul – and you could say it’s a bit of a family.

Members of the SOMArts team walk through the annual Día de los Muertos gallery exhibition, under a piece by Azul’s father, Adrian Arias, which honors the lives of two journalists killed in the line of duty with ethereal hanging portraits of the two journalists surrounded by a painted wreath of flowers. | Camille Cohen/The Norm

Azul and Yañez can trace their artistic lineages back to the annual exposition, whose roots date back to the 1970s era of the Mission District. Azul’s parents, both artists, have contributed altars to the exhibit in the past, and Azul has fond memories of running around the annual exhibit as a child and napping in hidden corners. of SOMArts while their parents worked on their installations. Yañez’s father, René Yañez, was the first artistic director of the influential SF Chicano art gallery Raza Gallery and designed the Día de Los Muertos art exhibit decades ago. It has since come to life in one way or another every year in several art spaces around the city and has been featured at SOMArts for over 20 years.

A portrait and poems by Janice Mirikitani are exhibited at SOMArts. | Camille Cohen/The Norm

“I kind of inherited the show from him“, said Rio Yañez, referring to his late father. The couple co-curated the exhibition for many years before his father died in 2018. “It started out as a very traditional way of displaying altars in a gallery. [] And over the years it has evolved into more conceptual and abstract interpretations of what an altar is..”

In the tradition established by Rio’s father, the exhibition’s Day of the Dead art installations are not strictly shrines and are assembled by a multicultural, multigenerational “family” of artists with whom Rio has worked over the years. , as well as new additions made by Azul. This year’s exhibition in particular is dedicated to the Japanese American poet and educator Janice Mirikitaniwho co-founded the Glide Foundation and was Poet Laureate of San Francisco from 2000 to 2002.

The ofrenda created by Michelle Bonilla Garcia, called “Hermanas” and dedicated to the life of Maya Bonner, is one of the most traditional ofrendas in SOMArts. | Camille Cohen/The Norm

While some works of art are inspired by traditional Mexican ofrendas created to honor deceased loved ones, others interpret the concept of an altar more broadly. An installation by Bay Area multimedia sculptor Lena Coletto recreates a beloved aunt’s laid-back patio with outdoor furniture and ceramic replicas of her aunt’s favorite foods and drinks, including a crumpled bag of Fritos, a sagging cigarette and cans of Diet Dr. Pepper and Hansen’s fruit soda are strewn about in a lovingly casual manner.

Two rooms – one with roses sprouting from tiny white lunch boxes and another with spray-painted gold toy guns glued in the shape of wings – are dedicated to souls lost in the tragic shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas. A piece by Azul’s father, Adrian Arias, honors the lives of two journalists killed in the line of duty with ethereal hanging portraits of the two journalists surrounded by a painted wreath of flowers; another by sculptor Lorraine Bonner mourns our dying planet Earth with ceramic coffins made by the artist.

Lena Coletto’s ofrenda, dedicated to her aunt, consists of enlarged sculptures of objects such as crisps, drinks and cigarettes. | Camille Cohen/The Norm
“A Pre-Extinction Ofrenda” is adorned with tiny handmade coffins, which contain various items such as bullets, cell phones and plastic toothbrushes. | Camille Cohen/The Norm

“And so it draws our attention to a bigger, bigger grief and love, like the love we need to have for our Earth and the future – if we’re going to have a future on that,” Azul said, ruminating on the Bonner article.

“We see altars that are deeply personal,” Yañez said. “But there are also shrines that address broader themes such as school violence.”

Carolina Quintanilla, director of the gallery, admires the various works of art and ofrendas in front of the work of the artist Alicia Cruz, dedicated to the community of Uvalde. The piece is on display at SOMArts, a gallery space at 934 Brannan St. in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco, for its annual gallery exhibition Día de los Muertos. | Camille Cohen/The Norm

All the altars are unified by the theme of love, according to Azul, who was inspired to name this year’s exhibition after a poignant lyric from the classic jazz standard, “nature boy.” The song, notably interpreted by Nat King Colecontains this spellbinding pearl of wisdom:The best thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved back.”

See also

Ilona Sturm’s artwork, “Love Is,” is part of the Día de los Muertos gallery’s annual exhibition at SOMArts, a gallery located at 934 Brannan St. in the SoMa district of San Francisco. | Camille Cohen/The Norm

“It connects us to the dead and the living like that kind of endless love, even when our loved ones are gone,” Azul observed of the lyrics. “What I’d like audience members to experience is that they feel called to feel that love for those they’ve lost, and also to feel gratitude for what they have now.”

“I think it’s always been about this beautiful intersection between something very personal, something political, something spiritual,” Yañez added. “And I really think this exhibit embodies all of that, and they intersect in a lot of very powerful ways.”

Friday’s opening reception and unveiling are free, but donations are encouraged and will mark the launch of the René Yañez Legacy Fund.

Sean Garahan, Senior Technician at SOMArts, enters the gallery space at 934 Brannan St. in the SoMa neighborhood of San Francisco during the installation of his annual Día de los Muertos gallery exhibition on Tuesday, October 4, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Norm

SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St.
Opening and unveiling: Oct. 7, 6-9 p.m. | Free with RSVP; $10 donation encouraged
The exhibition runs until November 4


James C. Tibbs