Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Exhibit at Duke University Set: Chavez Family to Participate

On Tuesday, October 2, 2012, 5:30-7:30 p.m., an opening reception will be held at Duke University Friedl Building Jameson gallery for “Days of the Dead: From Mexican Roots to Present Day Practice in the United States,” in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Included will be 25 photographs taken in 2011 by participants* in the Day of the Dead Photography Expedition, produced by Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. The exhibition is organized by the Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South at Duke University, whose executive director Jenny Snead Williams participated in 2011. The exhibition is curated by Bill Bamberger, award-winning faculty member in the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies and expedition leader/instructor, and Jenny Snead Williams.

*Participants in the 2011 expedition whose work will be exhibited are:  Cheryl Cross (Towson, Maryland), Liz Bryan (British Columbia), Nick Eckert (Washington, DC), Wayne Kubal (Tucson, Arizona), Jenny Snead Williams (Durham, NC), Norma Hawthorne (Pittsboro, NC), Jenny Haynes (British Columbia) and instructor Bill Bamberger (Durham, NC).

Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and his sister Janet Chavez Santiago, a linguist and coordinator of the Centro Academico y Cultural San Pablo educational programs, are invited by Duke University to participate in the opening activities. They will talk about Day of the Dead traditions in their family home and village of Teotitlan del Valle and work with students to build a traditional Oaxaca Day of the Dead altar.

Chavez Santiago family rugs will also be on exhibition and offered for sale during the opening reception. The family produces extraordinary textiles woven with 100% churro sheep whose wool is hand-spun and then dyed with natural plant materials (wild marigold, indigo, moss, pomegranates, nuts) and cochineal (the bug of the prickly pear cactus that produces natural, color-fast and intense shades of reds, purples, oranges, and pinks).

The altar offerings include wild marigold (cempasuchitl), photographs of deceased loved ones, pan de muerto (special egg bread), papel picado (cut out paper decorations), the favorite fruits, foods, and beverages of loved ones, Oaxaca chocolate, sugar skulls, tamales, candles, and incense. An essential part of the Oaxaca altar is also religious and spiritual — an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and of the Crucifixion.

Jenny Snead Williams tells me that area elementary school students will be creating another part of the exhibit with Duke students and faculty, and that Duke students will also be working on a third project that relates to the US celebrations of Days of the Dead. “Overall, it’s a rather complex exhibit because it will include so many constituents from local school children and teachers, to the general community, to students and professors.

Eric, Janet and Norma will be in Atlanta on October 3 and 4, where we will be hosted by Robin and Ted Blocker, and Lauren Waits and Art Gambill, for two evening rug exhibitions and sales. If you live in Atlanta or know anyone there, let me know and we’ll send them an invitation!

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