Día de los Muertos Altar Exhibit to open Oct. 18 at UA Little Rock

A new exhibit celebrating the Day of the Dead (known as Día de los Muertos in Spanish) opens this week in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Ann Maners and Alex Pappas Gallery in the Fine Arts Building.

The exhibit – a partnership between the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Consulate of Mexico – opens Thursday, Oct. 18, with a private reception at 5 p.m. The exhibit will remain open through Nov. 16 and can be viewed during normal gallery hours, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The university has invited middle and high school social studies, Spanish and art students, as well as UA Little Rock classes, to visit the exhibit to learn more about the cultural traditions surrounding the holiday, which was named by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The exhibition’s altar was designed and created by educator and artist Patricia Quilantán, the wife of Mexican Consul Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, and Consulate staff.

Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico between Oct. 31 and Nov. 2. Though the holiday originated in Mexico, it is celebrated in Latin America and the United States with colorful calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons). Although the festival coincides with Halloween, the two events are very different. While Halloween inspires horror and mischief, Day of the Dead is a demonstration of love and respect for deceased family members.

Junior and senior history students in Dr. Kristin Dutcher Mann’s Historian’s Craft class (History 4309) researched and wrote text panels for the exhibit as part of their coursework. They met with Mrs. Quilantán, Assistant Gallery Director Nathan Larson, and College of Arts, Letters and Sciences Associate Dean Dr. Johanna Miller Lewis to learn about exhibit design and construction. The goal of the coursework was to learn how historians sort through compelling narratives, perspectives, and evidence to craft arguments and explanations. The text panels will display information about the holiday, the ofrenda (altar) and its components, the significance of skeletons and skulls, and the work of the Mexican Consulate.

History majors Aaron Whitt and Austin Massa, along with political science major Ben Bowers, researched and wrote a panel about the role of the Mexican Consulate. They worked to distill their research into 100-200 words.

“It’s definitely been a great exercise in making ourselves be concise,” Whitt said. “I think we accomplished that. It’s all pertinent information.”

“The students in this class learn to read, research, and write specifically for history, so we’re getting a great, practical learning experience in how to interpret an exhibit for the public,” Mann said. “We’re excited to be a part of the ongoing collaborations between the Mexican Consulate and UA Little Rock.”


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