Galeria de la Raza
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Día de Los Muertos
11/2/1972 - 11/19/1972
This year marks Galería's first documented Día de los Muertos exhibit. This event offers Chicano artists a chance to re-create Mexican traditions of personal and collective remembering. In light of this first success, Galería makes El Día de la Muertos an annual event.
  Galería Exhibitions Group Exhibition <1972>
Mayan Rubbings from Guatemala <1972>
El Ojo de Indio - La Raza Photography <1972>
Experimentos Gráficos <1972>
Mi Raza Linda <1972>
Obras Gráficas de Rupert García y Ralph Maradiaga <1972>
Rivera, Orozco, Siquieros: Original Drawings and Prints <1972>
Día de Los Muertos <1972>
Obras Gráficas de Argentina, Brasil y Costa Rica <1972>
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CURATORIAL INFORMATIONSTATEMENT   
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
by Tere Romo

Día de los Muertos is an acknowledgment that life and death are symbiotic, life flowing from death and death flowing from life.

[…] Two small community art centers—Galería de la Raza in San Francisco and Self-Help Graphics in Los Angeles—introduced Day of the Dead observances to California in 1972.

[…] Contemporary Mexican observances of Día de los Muertos have ancient roots in the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica. After the Mexican American War of 1848, when the United States annexed one-third of Mexico’s territory, many Mexicans became United States residents overnight. Many maintained their cultural traditions, however, including Día de los Muertos. Succeeding generations of Mexican American families continued to erect ofrendas at home. Further, in certain parts of the United States (primarily rural areas of the Southwest), family visits were made to cemeteries in order to commemorate Día de los Muertos. As in Mexico, the emphasis was on observance within the family, although in some situations communal aspects were also practiced at the cemetery.

It was the socio-political Chicano Movement of the 1970s in California, however, that transformed Día de los Muertos into the urban artistic phenomenon and community-building tradition that it is today. Artists were—and continue to be—at the core of this transformation. Artists at the Galería de la Raza and Self-Help Graphics initiated the first recorded Day of the Dead celebrations in California in 1972. Though each site organized the observance within the ideological framework of the Chicano Movement, each center's specific mission and immediate environment influenced the direction of their activities.

Located near a community cemetery, Self-Help Graphics made a procession to, and ceremony at, Evergreen Cemetery an important component of their observance. In contrast, the Galería de la Raza made San Francisco’s Mission District neighborhood their focus, organizing an exhibition of community artists, and a procession within the neighborhood. Both institutions, however, incorporated a strong spiritual aspect within their Day of the Dead activities. Equally important, artists retained their central place as the interpreters and synthesizers of the tradition.

In the beginning of this reclamation of Day of the Dead, Chicano artists were influenced by the ritual and imagery associated with traditional Mexican Día de los Muertos celebrations. Over the last 30 years, Chicano artists have altered and reconfigured imagery for Day of the Dead, yet the artwork continues to reflect aspects of remembrance, loss, grief, humor and spirituality—all basic tenets of the tradition.

Día de los Muertos is very much a mestizo observance, combining Pre-Conquest indigenous philosophy and Spanish Catholic beliefs to form a distinctly Mexican tradition. It has been this syncretism that has allowed the observance to evolve and maintain its relevance through hundreds of years. Chicanos en Mictlán explores the adaptive nature of Day of the Dead within California’s Chicano observances. More importantly, it shows how, through their use of various artistic media, humor, and socio-political commentary, Chicano artists continue to link this ancient tradition to daily contemporary life.


Tere Romo is the Curator of Exhibitions at the Mexican Museum in San Francisco. This text is extracted from the curatorial essay for the exhibition Chicanos en Mictlán: Día de los Muertos in California (2000), which recounted the previously untold stories about the establishment of Día de los Muertos in California.

www.mexicanmuseum.org