The Burke Museum presented a traveling exhibit exploring the history and significance of Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca, a southern region of Mexico this fall. A Celebration of Souls: Day of the Dead in Southern Mexico, shows 29 stunning photographs capturing a typical Oaxacan Day of the Dead holiday. This exhibition was organized by The Field Museum in collaboration with Mars, Incorporated.

Each November 1 and 2, on the Christian holidays of All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day, families in villages across Mexico gather to welcome home the visiting spirits of departed relatives on the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Mexicans prepare for the celebration—which often includes decorating burial plots, lively family reunions, and the preparation of special foods—for weeks in advance, decorating altars in honor of the deceased with skeleton models, elaborate wreaths and crosses, votive lights, and fresh seasonal flowers. Traditionally, November 1 is set aside for remembrance of deceased infants, or angelitos, and those who have died as adults are honored on November 2.

The photographs in A Celebration of Souls: Day of the Dead in Southern Mexico show villagers immersed in all aspects of the celebration—preparing centuries-old recipes for the departed to enjoy, scattering trails of marigolds to guide the dead home, and offering chocolate and pan de muerto ("bread of the dead") at community gatherings. This annual celebration is commemorated in photographs of candlelit home altars, public processions, and rich offerings of food—including a row of solid chocolate skulls.

The exhibit features the work of four professional photographers, Guillermo Aldana, Scott Vlaun, Howard-Yana Shapiro, and Ricardo José Garibay Ruiz, who set out to document the trail of chocolate in Oaxaca and through their work became witnesses to the unique ways that rural Oaxacans celebrate the Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead Altar:
The Burke also presented a traditional Day of the Dead ofrenda (altar) created by local Mexican artist Isaac Hernández Ruiz. A Seattle artist and community leader, Ruiz is known for his efforts to bring an authentic face to Seattle's Day of the Dead celebrations particularly with his installation work at Seattle Center. His 6 x 9 ft. installation at the Burke gave visitors intimate insight into the artistry and traditions that shape an ofrenda. In addition, Ruiz was an artist-in-residence at the Burke Museum during the exhibit's first two weeks, where he gave demonstrations in sand painting.

This bilingual exhibit presented all label text in both English and Spanish.

Photo: Chocolate Skulls, by Guillermo Aldana.