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Arts & Life

Altar Celebrates Life In Day Of The Dead Tradition

November 1st marks the traditional Mexican holiday called Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead –  a time to celebrate the lives of those who’ve passed away. At the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, artists gathered recently to create an altar for the museum’s second annual Day of the Dead celebration.

Kirkwood Hall at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is bathed in an orange glow of light. The marbled hall has been lushly decorated with glowing paper lanterns, marigold garlands and floaty memorial altars for two Mexican artists who died in the past year.

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday of remembrance and celebration for friends and family members who have died. Traditionally, families build private altars honoring the dead using skulls, flowers, and the favorite food and drink of the departed.

Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero directs a team from the Mattie Rhodes Center as they add bread, candles, and decorated bottles of tequila to the display.

"I think you don't need to be Mexican or Latino to think about how memories are important," said Romero.


The traditional altar is built to honor someone who has died. This year’s altar at the Nelson memorializes and celebrates two Mexican artists who died this year.

"In this altar we honor one of our best writers, Carlos Fuentes," said Romero. "He passed away this year as well as Chavela Vargas, a popular singer. So one is a very high culture writer, very known internationally. And Chavela Vargas is a very international singer, but in popular culture.

Both cultures - both popular and high culture, street culture and museum culture - can be together in this kind of celebration and that is what is really rich."

Both are honored by Romero with floating platforms adorned with candles and keepsakes.

"It brings such a glow to the area that's not normally here," said Jenny Mendez, cultural arts director of Mattie Rhodes Center. "It seems somewhat delicate, but at the same time powerful."

Visitors are encouraged to add offerings and memorials of their own and attach them to ribbons hanging from glowing paper lanterns suspended from the ceiling of Kirkwood Hall.

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos Festival, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Sunday, November 4, 1 - 4 pm. Activities and performances include mariachi music by Los Musicos Mariachis, art demonstrations, the altar installation, and more.

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