As soon as you pass through the paper flower archway to enter the bright pink gallery, it becomes clear that the "Dia de Los Muertos" exhibition at Florida CraftArt is full of life and color. As it should be: The Mexican holiday that honors loved ones who have passed is meant to celebrate life.
Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a multi-day celebration that happens around Halloween. Originating in Mexico, the tradition is widely celebrated in the United States by Mexican-Americans and has gained international recognition.
Colorful altars are built where fruits and flowers are placed with photos and mementos of the departed. Skeletons and skulls are major icons in the tradition, which are represented in masks and foods, hence the term "sugar skulls."
Curator Mark Noll, who is Mexican, put the show together because he wanted to change people’s perception of the holiday as being dark and scary. He both invited artists and sent out an open call for artists to interpret the Day of the Dead.
"Dia de los Muertos is a time to remember our friends and loved ones and honor them," Noll said. "It’s a joyous occasion. I wanted the artists to express this."
While there are a few morose pieces in the show, for the most part, the work reflects the joyful nature of the celebration. Vibrant hues pervade the exhibition. Some artists took a literal approach to the topic, like Packard de la Vega with his fantastic sculpture of a skeleton holding an iguana, From Her Body Life Blossoms Anew. Others went a more conceptual route, as with Carolina Cleere’s epic mobile of an antlered baby, titled Frida’s Child.
Noll also carved 160 sugar skull-shaped plaques for artists to embellish. The variety is off the charts with these, and many are completely unexpected. Todd Frain did an homage to the movie The Goonies with a nod to One-Eyed Willie; Patricia Preston Mastry’s depicts the notoriously haunted Vinoy hotel; and Chad Mize illustrated one in his trademark doodle style.
Images of the sugar skulls have been compiled into a book, The Sugar Skulls of Dia de los Muertos: A Celebration of Life, available for sale at Florida CraftArt.
There is much, much more in the exhibition, which remains on display through May 26. They’ll have a closing reception that evening from 5:30-7:30 p.m. with a People’s Choice award presentation.
Florida CraftArt is located at 501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. The gallery is free an open to the public. Hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and Sunday from noon-5 p.m. floridacraftart.org.