Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an integral part of the cultural and artistic landscape of Los Angeles. Today’s common interpretation of the sacred indigenous tradition remixes and recycles the day into a commercial holiday blending Mexican, Latino, and American pop culture iconography with the spiritual aesthetics of the event’s indigenous and Catholic influences.
Self Help Graphics & Art takes a fresh approach with its exhibition Dia de los Muertos: A Cultural Legacy, Past, Present and Future as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. The East L.A. community arts center showcases historical prints, photographs, and ephemera that trace the celebration from an indigenous tradition to a remixed fusion of cultures. Highlighting some of the key artistic voices that have since shaped it, the exhibition explores what has made Dia de los Muertos a uniquely L.A. gathering—from Chicano artist collective Asco’s use of the celebration as a performance platform in the 1970s and 1980s to the ways it has been leveraged to address social justice issues.
While Dia de los Muertos is often viewed through a traditional or folk arts lens, the exhibition argues that the celebration is very much rooted in innovation. The selected Day of the Dead serigraphs and prints on view begin with images that no one today would recognize as being correlated to the celebration, such as works from artists in the 1970s that were very much informed by the Chicanismo ideology but not bound by it. Photographs from across the decades demonstrate the performative elements of this communal gathering: the costume and skeleton laden procession from Evergreen Cemetery to the Self Help Graphics building, the Aztec dance ceremonies, and the Catholic mass.
Through Dia de los Muertos: A Cultural Legacy, Past, Present and Future, Self Help Graphics & Art celebrates 44 years of blending tradition and innovation, springing from its mission of building community through the arts.
Self Help Graphics & Art is located at 1300 East 1st Street (323-881-6444 or selfhelpgraphics.com). For more information about the exhibition, and the more than 70 other exhibitions and programs of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, visit pacificstandardtime.org.