Día de los Muertos Altar Exhibit opens at UA Little Rock

A new exhibit in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Ann Maners and Alex Pappas Gallery in the Fine Arts Building invites visitors to explore the widely celebrated Día de los Muertos holiday or Day of the Dead.

The exhibit – a partnership between UA Little Rock and the Consulate of Mexico – opened Friday, Oct. 19, and will remain open through Nov. 16. It 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 exhibition’s altar was designed and created by educator and artist Patricia Quilantán, the wife of Mexican Consul Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, and Consulate staff.

At a private reception on Thursday, Oct. 18, Mrs. Quilantán explained the roots of the celebration and symbolism of some of the objects that adorn the multi-level altar. Candles and brightly colored flowers illuminate the way for the spirits of the deceased to find their way back to their families. Crepe paper chains made with alternating purple and orange links represent the circle of life and death. Purple represents mourning associated with death, and orange represents the vibrancy of life. Offerings, such as bread and tamales, are placed on altars to entice deceased loved ones to come back for a visit. The altar is placed against an arch, representing passage between life and death.

Hanging from the gallery’s ceiling are dozens of decorative monarch butterflies, known for their two-way migratory pattern in North America. Mrs. Quilantán dedicated the altar to migrants worldwide.

“We are all migrants,” she said.

Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico on Nov. 1-2. 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. The celebration was named by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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 display information about the holiday, the ofrenda, and its components, the significance of skeletons and skulls, and the work of the Mexican Consulate.

Educator and artist Patricia Quilantán and her husband, Mexican Consul Rodolfo Quilantán Arenas, speak during an opening reception for the Día de los Muertos Altar Exhibit.

Photos by Benjamin Krain


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