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The annual Día de los Muertos Festival (Day of the Dead) at Bare Hands honors the Hispanic, primarily Mexican, tradition in which families gather in local villages and cemeteries to remember their lost loved ones with stories, music, plays, food and art. It is similar to what we in the southern United States refer to as Decoration Day. It acknowledges death as an aspect of life. The annual commemoration at Bare Hands Gallery began in 2003 when a gallery artist asked to honor her father who had died that year with a Mexican inspired Day of the Dead altar. The artist, Tracy Martin, and her father, Civil Rights Photographer - Spider Martin, loved Mexico and its tradition of honoring lost loved ones in a joyful way on Dia de los Muertos. The overwhelming response to the initial installation for Spider was the catalyst for the festival Bare Hands Gallery hosts each year, which now occupies the gallery and courtyard, its alley, and a neighboring 10,000 square foot lot. Attendance on Monday, November 2, 2009 reached 2600!
In Mexico, Day of the Dead is an artful, multi-faceted celebration. Each town has a unique way of commemorating the day, but certain symbols are constant. Altars of remembrance display photos of the deceased; their favorite things in life, such as foods, books, games, beverages, cigarettes; marigolds; prayer candles; salt; spices and copal incense. Family and friends gather around these altars at home and in the cemeteries to share music, memories and prayers. The ancient belief is that the souls of the deceased come to visit during Day of the Dead guided by the familiar colors and smells of food, incense and flowers. Other traditional elements include skeletons depicting the deceased going about everyday activities; monarch butterflies whose fall arrival in Mexico symbolizes souls returning to visit; flowers, particularly marigolds, adorning every altar and gravestone; sugar skulls which children decorate and place on altars, and bread of the dead - a special bread baked for the occasion. The holiday is a celebration of those that have gone before us and of the memories they have given us.
The festival at Bare Hands combines community art installation and procession with remembrance, creativity, performance, music and food, to honor a rich cultural tradition and offer an exquisite downtown arts and cultural event.The celebration provides an annual opportunity to increase cultural understanding between the Hispanic and Non-Hispanic communities of north and central Alabama. Each year more individuals from the various Hispanic communities come to join the celebration at Bare Hands. Numerous non-profit organizations and businesses in Birmingham provide in-kind services so that the festival is able to ask a small admission price of $10 per adult, $3 per child 12 to 7 years of age, and free for children 6 years and under.
Bare Hands holds the Dia de los Muertos Festival on its actual day of November 2nd every year and includes local and national Hispanic artists to add to the authenticity of the event. The gallery also mixes elements of southern remembrance traditions into the festival such as Decoration Day and New Orleans Jazz Memorial Procession. Other cultural memorial traditions are often expressed in the various altar installations. These efforts offer a cross-cultural, multi-cultural celebration unique in the southeast.
The design of the event offers a way to educate adults, as well as children, about the history, tradition, and art of Dia de los Muertos. Activities include a Children's Day of the Dead Craft Area; live music, dance and performance; a memorial roll call of departed loved ones and procession; and individual altar installations by the general public and artists creating a true work of public art. The work of the festival begins on August 1 when some 100 volunteers, artists and students begin building props and art for the event. Papier-mâché abounds! Hundreds of masks, sugar skulls, flowers and ofrendas are created. On September 1 initial installation of lights and background structures begins. Each week from August 1 until November 2 hundreds of hands and hundreds of hours bring a spectacular one-day event to fruition.
Image used for background was created by Alexander Henry.