Now in its 16th year, the annual Day of the Dead exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center offers one of the most internationally diverse Día de los Muertos celebrations in the United States. Merging traditional Mexican altars with contemporary art installations, the exhibition presents a visually stimulating and superabundant array of perspectives remembering, honoring, and celebrating the dead. Inspired by cherished relationships, current events, and personal and collective histories, more than 25 altars by over 80 participating Día de los Muertos artists build a dense environment of creativity that makes way for meaningful reflection.
Chosen by father and son curators René & Rio Yañez, this year’s theme, Today is the Shadow of Tomorrow, is a call to respond to institutional racism and violence. The exhibition invites artists and visitors to honor those who have unnecessarily lost their lives and to look toward the future we want to make for ourselves. Today is the Shadow of Tomorrow is dedicated to internationally influential Uruguayan journalist, Eduardo Galeano, and beloved poet-activist of San Francisco’s Mission District, Alfonso Texidor.
The exhibition unveiling, Friday, October 9, 6–9pm, $12–15 sliding scale admission, features music and theatre ensemble Loco Bloco, who will present an opening procession that winds through the exhibit. Loco Bloco’s Brazilian Samba and world music will be accompanied by dancers, rituals, and ceremonies. Poet and performance artist Denise Benavides will host the opening event, performing alongside poet Adrian Arias. Advance tickets are strongly encouraged.
Exhibition highlights include returning artists Victor-Mario Zaballa, who will build a variation on his popular illuminated altar made of traditional papel picado, and Howie Katz and Tania Figueroa, who will work with concepts of modern computer and digital technology to contribute an interactive installation for the fifth consecutive year. Artist Ana Rivero Rossi will design a “narcoguernica,” a reproduction of Picasso’s “Guernica” utilizing Mexican newspapers reporting on “narcotraficantes” (drug traffickers).
Working in direct partnership with families who have lost loved ones to police violence, The Idriss Stelley Foundation will create an altar that honors those who have died in custody at San Francisco County Jail, calling into question widespread practices of willful neglect. Artist Andrea Juarez, working with Communities in Harmony Advocating for Learning and Kids (CHALK), will use found materials from San Francisco neighborhoods to create an installation addressing the specific ways in which institutional racism impacts youth through the education system, juvenile justice system, the housing crisis, and food justice.
Adrian Arias and the El Tecolote staff will create special altars honoring the exhibition’s dedicatees. Incorporating his own background as a poet and writer, Arias will create an installation dedicated to Eduardo Galeano, and El Tecolote staff will offer an installation celebrating Alfonso Texidor’s significant contributions to the community newspaper.
Additional programming includes Gathering the Embers, Friday, October 23, 7pm to 9:30pm, an annual performance art anthology curated by sisters Amanda and Natalia Vigil, and the ticketed closing night party Saturday, November 7, 6pm to 9pm.
Friday, October 9, 6–9pm
$12–15 sliding scale admission
Exhibition unveiling features a Día de los Muertos inspired artist market and an opening procession by music and theatre ensemble Loco Bloco. Poet and performance artist Denise Benavidez hosts and performs alongside artist and poet Adrian Arias.
Gathering the Embers
Friday, October 23, 7–9:30pm
$8 in advance & $10 at the door
Multi-disciplinary performers connect past and present with an evening of story and performance.
Saturday, November 7, 6–9pm
$7–10 sliding scale admission
The final opportunity to view and interact with the altars features live music and interactive installations.
Alicia Cruz Hunt and Rio Hunt
Ana Gloria Bedolla Alcantar
Ana Rivero Rossi
Andrea Juarez Mendoza & The CHALK Family Artists
Andrea Nicolette Gonzales
Angelica Guiterrez Cruz
Beth Benson and Brandy McDaniel
Blanca Estela Rodríguez
Dean MacCannell and Juliet Flower MacCanell
Elizabeth “Oscar” Maynard
Herlinda Josie Lozano
Idriss Stelly Foundation
Juan Carlos Cuéllar Baldomar
Kit Cameron and Debra Bok
Lau ra Victoria Salazar
Lia Tealdi and John Latham
Mary Molly Mullaney
Mayra Guadalupe Lopez
Nathaniel and Gina Bolton
Nina Reyes Rosenberg
Tania Figueroa and Howie Katz
Veronica A. Rueda
ABOUT THE CURATORS
Rene Yáñez, founder and former Artistic Director of San Francisco’s Galería de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District, was one of the first curators to introduce the contemporary concept of Mexico’s Day of the Dead to the United States with a 1972 exhibition at the Galería. Each subsequent year he curated a Day of the Dead exhibition either at the Galería or at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Then, in 1994 and 1998, he curated Rooms for the Dead and Labyrinth for the Dead at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. His first year curating a Day of the Dead exhibit at SOMArts Cultural Center was 1993. There were a few years when he curated elsewhere, but then returned to SOMArts on a regular basis.
Active as both a visual and performance arts curator and artist, Yáñez co-founded the successful Chicano performance trio Culture Clash. In 1998, he received the “Special Trustees Award in Cultural Leadership” from The San Francisco Foundation for his long-standing contribution to the cultural life of the Bay Area.
Yañez has curated numerous exhibitions including Chicano Visions (2001–2007), an exhibition hosted by museums such as the de Young Museum (in San Francisco), El Paso Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.
Notable recent projects include programming produced for the de Young Museum’s Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National and The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. This programming featured Yáñez’ interpretations of the works of Pablo Picasso in anaglyph 3D, as well as a fashion runway show Viva Frida: From the Blue House to the Cat Walk.
In 2009, 2011 and 2012, Yañez created a living altar for the San Francisco Symphony’s Day of the Dead concert featuring a large cast, crew and suite of musicians, curated Four Juan Five, an exhibition about the San Francisco Mission District at Alley Cat Books, and performed in Guillermo Gomez-Peña’s Corpo Illicito at the New Performance Gallery in San Francisco.
In 2014 Yañez printed a popular zine, Zine a la Mode over a Pot of Coffee, with a circulation of over 200 copies. His recent work includes a collaboration with artist Patrick Piazza for an installation on the De-Appropriation wall on Valencia street, an exhibit with the S.F. Print Collective about displacement, and Las Chicas de Esta Noche, a drag queen review show at the de Young Museum in collaboration with comedian Marga Gomez. With his collective The Great Tortilla Conspiracy he has participated in art events benefitting the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and the St. Peters Dining Hall.
Rio Yañez, born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District, is a curator, photographer, and graphic artist. As an artist he has exhibited his work from San Francisco to Tokyo and created artwork installations for Jean Paul Gaultier’s touring exhibit The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. His Bay Area solo exhibitions include Pocho Adventure Club at Galería de la Raza in San Francisco, Cholas to Picasso: The 3D Artworks of Rio Yañez at Asterisk Gallery, Bubblegum Crisis at Ginger Rubio Salon and Pochos & Pixels at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Multicultural Center.
Yañez is a curator of more than 10 exhibitions. As with his curatorial work, a part of Yañez’ visual art practice is dedicated to exploring how Chicano and Asian Youth have used social media to exchange aesthetics and language. In addition to creating graphic art, Yañez is a founding member of The Great Tortilla Conspiracy, the world’s first and only tortilla art collective. As a tortilla artist he silkscreens art and political graphics onto tortillas using edible inks and serves them to eat to the public as interventionist performance art. Yañez’ recent projects include self-publishing board games designed around Chicano pop culture icons and a collaborative series of portraits with activist and performer April Flores.
Top to bottom: courtesy Rio Yañez; courtesy Victor-Mario Zaballa; Alfonso Texidor, courtesy Linda Wilson; courtesy Rio Yañez