Day of the Dead exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California highlights the work of MADRE, a public health program that helps local Latina women navigate the grief of child loss.
Celebrating the theme of memorial across cultures, the 21st annual Días de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) exhibition, Rituals + Remembrance, explores how Latin American, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese and other communities view death, memory, and healing.
The exhibition includes new and existing work by artists Nancy Hom, Lilli Lanier, Yvonne Escalante, Charles Valoroso, Bryan Keith Thomas, Safety First ©, Paco Garcia, Melanie Cervantes, and Jesus Barraza, as well as installations created by MetWest High School, Sankofa Academy, and the Alameda County Public Health Department.
MADRE team and 29 other women in the program make a little shadowbox altar—a nicho—for the babies they’ve lost. The nichos are being exhibited in an installation called Nuestros Angelitos (Our Little Angels) through January 3 at the Oakland Museum of California.
They are included in a bigger show called Rituals + Remembrances, a part of the museum’s annual Day of the Dead exhibit, which celebrates memorialization practices in different cultures.
In one of the boxes, a mother placed a print of her baby’s footprints next to a bonnet with his name, Anakin, written on the brim in blue glitter. His mementos lie among blue and white plastic flowers and a miniature toy rattle.
Another contains the photograph of a toddler looking out the window, his hand resting on the pane. Surrounding the photo are images of his mom holding his tiny hand in hers.
A prayer card in another box depicts the Virgin Mary, regal in a robe of gold and blue, clutching her hands in prayer. Her gaze rests beneath her on a small cut-out of a basketball and a toy-sized baby rattle.
Each nicho was created for the exhibition by a woman who participated in the MADRE program. Some losses are more recent than others. Each story is bound to the others in a shared language of grief.
The museum has been marking the Day of the Dead since 1996 with both a one-day community celebration and an exhibit that runs through the fall. The museum partners with professional artists and community organizations to make the work. This year, featured pieces include a six-foot mandala by artist Nancy Hom and an origami portrait of celebrated California artist Ruth Asawa, created by her granddaughter Lilli Lanier. Students from MetWest High School also crafted an audiovisual installation that celebrates their heritage.