Eugene’s art community has a proud tradition of celebrating Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, the Nov. 1-2 Mexican holiday that honors the dead in wildly colorful and mischievous ways.
That grand dame, the Maude Kerns Art Center (MKAC), for one, has been hosting an exhibit and festivities for two-plus decades. The art center opened its 23rd annual show Oct. 14, which will be bursting with frenetic ofrendas (altars to the dead) dripping in marigolds and jittering, dancing calacas (skeletons) through Nov. 4.
Upon entering Maude Kerns’ charming little 19th-century church house, Donald Trump will glare at you from the far corner, sticking out his lizard tongue. Okay, this is actually “Humpty Trumpty,” local artist Analee Fuentes’ “cathartic” reaction to the Republican presidential nominee in papier-mâché (or cartonería) form.
“It kind of came out like the alien coming out of your chest,” Fuentes tells EW, laughing. She explains that papier-mâché “Judas figures” are common in Día de los Muertos parades, and Trump is her Judas this year.
“I just can’t believe what’s going on,” Fuentes says. “I’m personally offended as a Mexican-American, as a woman, as a human being. He’s talking about my people, my grandparents, my mother,” she says of Trump’s rhetoric, e.g. kicking off his campaign in 2015 by deeming Mexicans “drug dealers, criminals, rapists” and declaring that federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel was unable to do his job ethically because of his Mexican heritage.
“The trick for me in making that piece — and it’s a big piece, 7 feet tall — is not being hateful, because Day of the Dead has a strong sense of humor,” Fuentes says.
And the result is playful, with his bulbous orange head painted with glittering green dollar signs and plastered with gold coins, little horns framing his hazy-gravy comb-over. Our favorite detail? His teeny skeleton hands peeking out from his pinstriped suit sleeves.
There is much more art to dig into at MKAC such as Melissa Sikes’ lighthearted acrylic paintings on wood boards of skeletons doing regular ol’ Eugene things like hanging out at the Saturday Market or running a marathon.
“I like the idea that even the dearly departed continue to be present at our favorite Eugene places,” Sikes writes in her artist’s statement.
Also look for beautifully kitschy and tender ofrendas and cheeky embroidery such as Maris Leahy’s “Skeletons in the Closet,” immortalizing the Bernard Shaw quote: “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” Visit mkartcenter.org for tour information.
Meanwhile on the University of Oregon campus, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is gearing up for its own four-day celebration, “El Quijote de la Muerte,” in honor of the 400th (¡Dios mío!) anniversary of Don Quixote by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2.
Each evening Los Pitayeros, a traditional mariachi group from Jalisco, Mexico, will serenade museum-goers, and dancers from Guanajuato’s Identidad y Folclor will perform. Legendary Mexican papier-mâché artist Raymundo González Nieto presents his skeletons and will host an art-making session. And don’t miss the ofrendas crafted by Oak Hill School students and MEChA de UO. The museum provides show guidebooks in English and Spanish. For full details, visit jsma.uoregon.edu.