The Quick and The Dead
Gavin Huang / The Dartmouth Staff
Dia de los Muertos - or Day of the Dead - came to Dartmouth last week, heralded by Los Angeles-based contemporary artist Rigo Maldonado’s impressive art installation in Baker-Berry Library.
Behind the event was Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies Cesar Chavez Fellow Robb Hernandez, who saw Maldonado’s work as an opportunity to “bring what we do [in LALACS] to the student body.” Maldonado’s installation in Baker Berry is only a small part of this emerging artist’s body of work on the Day of the Dead.
For the past 15 years, Maldonado has worked to represent Day of the Dead as both an artistic practice and a way to honor the dead. This merging of art and tradition prompted Hernandez and the LALACS department to invite Maldonado to Dartmouth as a visiting artist.
Day of the Dead, which occurs each year on Nov. 2, is a Mexican holiday is best known for its celebration — rather than lamentation — of the dead and their lives. In addition to other festivities, those who celebrate the holiday build intricate altars for their dead loved ones. These often colorful structures contain photos of the person who has passed and the person’s favorite foods and beverages. According to tradition, the dead will come back to enjoy their altars and the celebration.
With the traditional altar as inspiration, Maldonado hosted an event at the LALACS House in which students built their own miniature box altars for their dead friends and family. Maldonado then took these miniature altars and arranged them together into what he called a “community altar” in Baker-Berry Library. Maldonado explained that his essential purpose of the project was to “[invite] the private space into the public space” and that the first floor of Baker-Berry lent itself perfectly to this purpose.
Maldonado complemented the less-traditional community aspect of the installation with more traditional elements such as brightly colored paper cutouts, skeleton figurines, miniature marzipan skulls and orange marigolds. Completing the installation was a plasma screen projection of Day of the Dead images.
In addition to bringing an unexpected burst of culture and color to Dartmouth, the community altar went beyond a simple artistic statement to affect students on a deeper emotional level. One student, according to Maldonado, even broke out into tears upon viewing the installation for the first time. Even more notable was that this student was not Mexican American, nor did she celebrate Day of the Dead — she was simply a student from Texas who, as Maldonado explains, was so moved because the installation reminded her of home.
By taking culture outside the walls of affinity and academic programs, Maldonado presented Day of the Dead as less of a strictly Mexican-American experience and more of a representation of the greater, shared human experience. Maldonado’s Day of the Dead installation is a prime example of how art can transcend simple aesthetic purposes to convey emotion, history, and a greater message. While Maldonado installation has been gone as of Sunday, its effect on Dartmouth certainly is not.