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If you go
What: “Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead” exhibit
When: Saturday to Nov. 2; Fall Party Preview from 6 to 9:30 p.m. today
Where: Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 311 E. Main St.
Admission: “Nino’s Day” on Sunday and “Family Celebration” on Oct. 26 are free; regular admission is $7 adults, $5 students (kindergarten to college) and seniors 65 and older, $20 families and free for museum members; free admission every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.; 422-6467 or
Courtesy of Ramiro Rodriguez
Ramiro Rodriguez’s “Cuentos y Memoria,” or “Stories and Memory,” features a skeleton in a coffin filled with books.

‘Day of Dead’ art exhibit celebrates life

Painter and printmaker Ramiro Rodriguez became an artist because his family always told him that’s who he was.

From the award-winning sketch of a snowman that he drew as a child to his art exhibit at the University of Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art, he says he has always had a strong support system.

“Even though my siblings and my parents aren’t artists per se, I think each of them had a way of doing things that were very artful,” he says.

“My mom is very active in sewing, knitting and crocheting; my sister is really good (at) arranging flowers. I remember my older brothers bringing art projects home from school. It showed me that art was accessible to me.”

Rodriguez will commemorate his family in the annual “Day of the Dead” exhibit Saturday at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. His piece “Cuentos y Memoria” is the first commissioned altar since the exhibit opened in 2003. Altars created by local organizations and community members will join Rodriguez’s installation until Nov. 2.

The Day of the Dead, also known as Dia de los Muertos, is a holiday celebrated in Mexico on Nov. 1 and 2 to mark the lives of loved ones who have died. Families gather to create altars that honor their relatives who now exist in the afterlife.

Rodriguez’s “Cuentos y Memoria,” which translates to “Stories and Memory,” is an altar representing the traditional markers of the holiday, including pictures and flowers. Rodriguez created the piece in 2007 for the Snite Museum of Art, where he is the exhibition coordinator.

He reconfigures the piece, which includes a life-size skeleton and coffin filled with books, for every exhibition space.

“My interest grew in my family history as I got older and started to have my own family. I have two sons, and I felt like it’s important to pass on that information about their relatives and the culture,” he says.

To give the piece a contemporary twist, Rodriguez has replaced the conversation aspect that would happen around the altar with a video of his elders recounting the stories of his family’s history.

“I tend to see a person’s existence in this world as an inverted triangle – the ancestors live at the base and everything trickles down to each individual,” he says.

“Knowing these stories and passing it down to the next generation gives you a sense of place. You relate to those who went through the same journeys, same hardships and had the same sort of success.”

Palermo Galindo, Hispanic and immigrant liaison for the city of Fort Wayne, has been involved with the exhibit from the beginning. He says the exhibit is important in passing those stories on to a new, diverse generation.

This year’s exhibit will feature two free-admission events: “Nino’s Day” on Sunday offers storytelling and treats for children from George’s La Baguette Bakery; and on Oct. 26, “Family Celebration” will offer a live mariachi band, folklore dancers and Day of the Dead costumed characters.

“As this event continues to grow, we have a diverse group of ages learning about the culture,” Galindo says. “It’s not just about admiring the culture from afar; they’re dancing, reading poetry. It’s a whole combination.

“It’s more interactive – it opens your heart to something beautiful.”

The museum’s new serigraphy exhibit, “Graphicanos: Contemporary Latino Prints from the Serie Project,” will also open Saturday. The exhibit features the work of underrepresented artists with an emphasis on Latino culture over the past two decades.

The museum purchased 200 fine serigraphy pieces from the Serie Project, a nonprofit organization in Austin, Texas. Serie Project founder Sam Coronado will give a lecture on the organization in November; the pieces will be on display until January.

“We’re lucky that we have these prints and artworks,” Galindo says. “It’s a great opportunity for people.”

Robin Grose, a Kokomo native, lived in Mexico for 20 years before she moved back to Indiana. The freelance food critic is building an altar for the exhibit that celebrates the lives of all cooks.

She says she has always admired how Mexico’s history, which spans nearly 1,000 years and dates back to the Aztecs, remains present in the modern world.

“We’ve lost a lot of that; we don’t live where our ancestors lived or do what they once did,” she says. “It’s a way to remind us once a year that we’re a part of (an) unbroken chain of humanity.”

Rodriguez says he has become somewhat of an unintentional record keeper for his family. His videos have become a more durable way to pass down stories to his sons and the generations that will follow.

He hopes the exhibit will inspire people to listen to as many stories as they can from their elders, because for Rodriguez, his family has always played a large role in making him who he is.

“That’s what the celebration is about – remembering those have gone before you,” he says. “If there’s no one to hear this wealth of information, it gets buried with the person.”