Nov 14, 2011

REVIEW | 5th Annual Muertitos Fest | Say Sí | San Antonio

Say Sí is a visual arts program for 9th through 12th graders in San Antonio and Muertito Fest is an exuberant expression of it’s success in bringing together young students, accomplished professional artists, and the community at large together in a multi-faceted celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Muertitos Fest was part of the November First Friday events in San Antonio. Every First Friday galleries in and around the historic King William district are open to the public late into the evening. On First Fridays the people of San Antonio celebrate the arts in galleries surrounded by live music, street food, vendor booths, and performance art. 
The Say Sí exhibition blends student and professional works inspired by the festive Mexican holiday that honors the dead with colorful altars in homes and family picnics in cemeteries. The gallery space was filled with an exciting mix of visitors from the little siblings and admiring grandparents of the Say Sí students to serious collectors. Muertitios Fest was far from a quite stroll through an elegant spacious environment amid a sophisticated audience, instead it was noisy, crowded, festive and fun. The art shown at Muertitos represented a broad spectrum of media from sculpture, mixed media, intricate linocuts, and brilliant paintings to pieces in traditional artisanal techniques like papel picado (cut paper) and embellished textiles.

In the entryway you’re greeted by an incredible collection of authentic folk art including an elaborate Day of the Dead altar with vintage standing cut out photographs from the thirties and forties mounted on wood. These faces from the past surrounded by flowers, candles, their favorite foods and some personal relics weave past and present. Turning into the gallery space you encounter the student work that ranged from a tribute to a recently deceased family pet complete with a video and relics including her pink leash to a lovely homage to one of the student’s grandmothers. The latter work was a mash up, blending traditional day of the dead altar elements (marigolds, candles) with a set of lotería (Mexican bingo cards) bearing family photographs , the grandfather in his soldier’s uniform,  the grandmother’s wedding portrait, her wedding ring, and favorite can of Folgers Coffee. The young artists also took inspiration from traditional crafts, for example, one of the students, inspired by the sugar skulls, created a colorful seedbead encrusted small animal skull using a cast wax technique. Also featured in the exhibition was a silkscreen print in the style of papel picado of Amy Winehouse that not only evoked the look of cut paper, but conveyed the also the mournful whimsy and flair of this feast that celebrates the dead.

This Much I Know, Laura D. Schultz, Cut Paper 4. 5x 8 feet, 2007
The largest galleries were devoted to pieces by contemporary professional artists from across Mexico and the US. Flanked by two vibrant marigolds of cut and highly glossed wood, a series of black and white pieces in different media, some in linocuts and others in woodcuts, silkscreen and more were hung in a line as if they formed a line of papel picado. One was Warhol-esque in it’s composition, with four panes each featuring a skeleton. Another depicted an angel bent in mourning at a graveside. Also on display were two series, one of embellished chairs and another of somber earthen-hued mantles bearing worked metal medallions. The chairs were jewel colored with brilliant and elaborate embroidered upholstered seats. These beautiful empty chairs seemed to signify the loss of our dead and our need to hold a place for them, to keep their seat in this world ready for their return, like the empty chair at a Seder dinner. Perhaps the most compelling works were three enormous works of cut paper skeletons. Monumental in size, the series was carefully crafted by Laura D. Schultz, boldly worked, and yet delicate and finely details. One wore a bridal gown with a bodice of delicately pricked designs and skirt created of fine slashes. The second showed a pair of skeleton dancers locked in an eternal dance. The final skeleton, This Much I Know, wore a crown of roses and stood next to an exhuberant spray of cut work roses. She was at once lyrical and lovely, yet macabre.

This exhibition of contemporary art was an opportunity to see the work of today’s artists are well as to get a glimpse into the future of art. The work of the Say Sí students was captivating. From their unique points of view and limited life experiences, they explored the same themes as did the adults artists. A flyer at the site describes the demographics of Say Sí’s artists.  They are young - 13 to 17 years old, 55% fall below the poverty line of Federal Family Income Guidelines, 62% are female, 75% are Latino and another 11% mixed race. In San Antonio where the average high school graduation rate is 65%, 100% of the kids of Say Sí graduate and are accepted into college (and that’s been true for the last 8 years). In 2010, the 15 Say Sí seniors won over $800,000 in scholarship awards. This program is an incredible incubator of the arts – it makes arts education accessible to a population that would otherwise be characterized as “at risk.” This exhibition was a celebration of culture, of tradition, of art and artists – in every possible way (except perhaps the difficulty of finding a parking space) it made wonderful and thought-provoking art accessible.

-Victoria Eastman


  1. ContributorNov 15, 2011 02:57 PM
    The Say Sí program is great. I had a friend that was involved and went with her to the same exhibition many years ago. I enjoyed reading your blog about the works and seeing how much it has grown and changed. When I went there were many rooms and building you could go into to view art. I was overwhelmed by the amount of works that were crammed into these spaces, but still truly enjoyed the exhibition. Its amazing to me how many people redesign the Dia de los Muertos skeleton, but make it there own and it is never overdone.

    Great job.

    -Jennifer Perry