Just as Red Moon Theater’s Halloween performances were a must when I lived in Chicago, a trip to Somarts each year to view their Dia de los Muertos installations has become one of my favorite annual traditions. This year there was a marked change in tone of the pieces on view, commensurate with the theme of the show, Day of the Dead in the Time of Change. In past years many of the altars strove for a baroque grandeur and the whimsical, tongue-in-cheek and blackly humorous stood cheek by jowl with more traditional offerings of marigolds and sugar skulls. Pieces this year include heartfelt remembrances and tributes as well as many a call to action, pointing out the civic work of deceased family members or drawing attention to the effects of violence on our communities.

Since the main entrance was closed, I actually arrived at these at the very end.

What I was greeted with when I entered was this wonderful sculpture by Carla Caletti.

Hopefully the candles at the foot of the work give you some idea of the scale. This work towered above me and I’m fairly tall. Based on one of her earlier painted works, Widow Keeper is meant to offer solace to woman around the world who have suffered a loss due to war.

Deborah Cohen and the Fifth Grade Spanish Class of The San Francisco School recreated 24 St., the route of La Proccesión, on the walls of the gallery. Turn around from the Brava Theater and walk two blocks and you’re at my home.

One of the most moving pieces on display was a tribute to Christopher Rodriguez, an Oakland boy paralyzed by a stray bullet. Candi Farlice’s corridor installation Butterflies/Cocoon is lined with figures each illuminated by a single light.

Denise Richard’s altar in memory of her mother Rosemary is crowded with all the makings of an Italian-American meal. Rosemary was, the framed statement tells us, both a fantastic cook and a talented singer. Offerings of food are a staple of Day of the Dead altars. The cans of tomato sauce and packages of pasta crowding around the photographs are a beautiful evocation of the artist’s mother.

Writing messages to the deceased and affixing them the tail of a kite is a tradition in some parts of Guatemala. While the signage explains that the kites would then be flown above a cemetery, this particular one is set to fly over Ocean Beach on November 2nd. at 5pm. Visitors are invited to add their own message.

A comfortable looking room devoted to those whose loved ones died far from their homeland called Buried in Michigan by artist Suha Araj.

Like many of the other pieces in this year’s show, Ytaelena López’s The Virtual Afterlife focuses as much on the living as the dead. Her installation plots out the sites of victims of violence in the Mission and is a call to action to reclaim the streets from gangs.

Lia Tealdi and Bjorn Heinbach’s Saints of Sorrow are based on actual historical figures canonized by the Catholic Church. St. Agatha of Sicily is refigured as the Patron Saint of Prostitutes, Rape Victims, Torture Victims and Breast Cancer. Like the Widow Keeper, she is sadly, a caretaker for our times. One of three dolls crafted and displayed by the artists, her design as something more contemporary and familiar makes her an eminently likable figure to turn to in times of need.

Last stop, the immense sculpture crafted to resemble a funerary monument.

Although this year’s show grapples with many painful themes and memories, the artists offer up many attempts to console, to hearten and to use the remembrance of loved ones to highlight the strength to be found in community.


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