The art of immigration: Long Beach’s MOLAA opens yearly Dia de los Muertos exhibit


Kristen Naeem | Signal Tribune

"See You Later" by Kat Chavez made from silkscreen, linoleum, board, fabric and polymer plate prints on paper

The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) celebrated the opening of its “Dia de los Muertos” exhibit with an opening reception on Oct. 24.

MOLAA hosts a Dia de los Muertos exhibit each year, with this year’s theme being “De Generación a Generación: A Subconscious Lineage,” which deals with “lineages and how we have been consciously and unconsciously shaped by them,” according to MOLAA’s website.

The exhibit features 19 total pieces, which includes three altars designed by community artists. MOLAA put out a call for artists online on Aug. 1 and received artwork proposals until Aug 14. The exhibit features both submitted art and pieces from MOLAA’s permanent exhibit.

“The art exhibition selection process was by blind jury. The jury consisted of four individuals: three staff members and our guest curator, Raquel Moral. I was also present but was not a part of the official jurying process. The initial meeting consisted of eliminating works that clearly did not align themselves with the theme of De Generación a Generación,” Gabriela Martinez, MOLAA director of Education, said. “Once the list was narrowed down to about 20 artworks, our guest curator, Raquel Moral, began working on categorizing or grouping the remaining works and identifying conceptual threads between them.”

The accepted artists created pieces that reflected their interpretation of the theme “De Generación a Generación: A Subconscious Lineage” with elements from their family and cultural histories.

The artist Derek Prado created a sculpture titled “Heavy Labor,” consisting of gardening sheers and marigolds embedded in a slab of concrete.

“I was thinking of my family history and how my grandparents arrived to America from Jalisco, Mexico. They worked really hard for our family for quite a long time for us to get to where we are at, including myself. The flowers that are placed in my sculpture were plants that I took months to grow and take care of, placing them in a metaphor of growth of a life and time,” Prado said. “I used marigolds particularly to correlate it to my Mexican heritage and how the flowers that migrate to survive can relate to my grandparents migrating to America to do the same. The hedge cutters are both materials that I have been working with for a while and the history I had with the clippers to manage my grandparents backyard. Planting the cutters into my concrete piece to forever keep the action of cutting the flowers I have on the piece is my attempt to show the moment of labor. And the concrete is both a base and a record of the labor of mixing the concrete together and having a block of it made for the piece.”

Among the three altars in MOLAA’s Dia de los Muertos exhibit is Brianna Mitjans’ “Thread of Generations.” The multi tiered altar is covered in colorful spools of thread and embroidered portraits within embroidery hoops.

“As a second generation Los Angeles native, Filipina-Cubana American, I always look to past generations to learn how and why I came to be. Each tier in my altar represents a different generation. The thread flows throughout the tiers which represents the influence, knowledge and memories from past generations,” Mitjans told the Signal Tribune. “The thread flows throughout and leads us to the embroidered silhouette hoops of my generation. The thread spills off the edge to the floor which represents [that] the option to become something great [is] limitless. While my ancestors struggled to survive, their actions provided me the fortunate opportunity to choose my own path in life.”

Artist’s relationships to their heritage can be complicated, and this can be seen expressed in their artwork. Chilean textile artist Carmen Mardónez explained that while her piece “Cooking” represents days when she felt connected to her heritage and culture, her art is also a means of breaking away from cultural traditions.

“‘Cooking’ captures my shiny days, when everything flows–– days in which I can review my history, empathize with the women in my lineage, and reconcile myself with those who have transmitted so much wisdom and have given me the tools to write my own version of myself,” Mardónez said. “This experience is like the sunrise coming after experiencing a long night.”

As complicated as it may be, Mardónez’s journey as an artist and mother made it necessary for her to break away from domestic traditions she was raised with.

“With a 1-month-old newborn, I migrated from Chile to the United States, hoping that the distance would help me to unlearn all those sacrificial predispositions, just to discover that they inhabit under my skin, and that the specters of generations do not simply disappear because one is physically far from home,” Mardónez explained “Looking for ways to exorcize this burden–– my artistic work became another way of expressing my resistance.”

MOLAA’s Dia de los Muertos exhibit will be on display until Nov. 10. Admission to the museum is free on Sundays from 11am to 5pm.