The first Friday of every month is always alive with art and culture in downtown Phoenix. However, this month’s event provided a different vibe for many attendees as the presence of Dia de los Muertos was unleashed throughout downtown festivals and galleries.
A common misconception of Dia de los Muertos is that it is a dark and depressing holiday filled with skeletons and fear, local artist and gallery owner Su Humphrey said. On the contrary, Hispanic culture regards Dia de los Muertos as a day for families to remember their loved ones who have passed and celebrate their lives.
Art representative of this aspect of Hispanic culture was viewed in abundance at Gallery:SUHU on East McKinley and North Fourth streets, where Humphrey and fellow artist Tony Di Angelis displayed some of their vibrant Dia de los Muertos pieces. The gallery dedicated the entire month of October and first weekend of November to Dia de los Muertos.
“I like Mexican folk art,” Humphrey said. “I like the happiness of it. The Mexicans I grew up around were always happy about it — they didn’t make it a dark thing.”
Gallery:SUHU participates in every First Fridays and will soon be transitioning from Dia de los Muertos to Christmas-themed art, which also will incorporate a Hispanic influence.
Right down the road at East Garfield and North Fifth streets, Galeria de los Muertos is housed in a building that foreshadows the dark art that it displays year-round. For this month’s First Friday, the front room of the gallery was devoted specifically to Dia de los Muertos artwork.
Intricately designed skeleton marionettes and vintage photographs were just a few of the unique pieces that filled the room. Artist and gallery owner Marco Turrubiartes said he has always felt a special connection with the Hispanic culture.
“I’m half (Hispanic) and I grew up with a Grandmother in Guadalupe, so we’d go down and see all of the altars,” he said.
Diverse artists took advantage of the fact that Arizona is a border state with many cultural backgrounds to create a completely new ambiance at the November First Friday.
“I grew to appreciate the southwest and the blend of cultures like the desert cowboys and the Hispanic culture,” Turrubiartes said. “It makes Arizona and the southwest, in general, a really interesting mix of different influences, and I wanted to show that in my work.”
A quick jaunt away at Civic Space Park, local artist Steve Malakowski displayed his art at the second annual Dia de los Muertos Festival. With two Latina daughters-in-law, Malakowski had since been inspired to produce Hispanic-inspired artwork.
“We live in a neighborhood that is 95 percent Mexican so we love the people, the music, the food and the art that is raw and heartfelt,” he said.
Malakowski began developing an appreciation for Hispanic art after going to Rocky Point to build houses as part of a volunteer project.
“There was a graveyard right where we were staying so I started walking through it,” he said.
Malakowski discovered there were not fancy, engraved tombstones that often are seen in the United States. Instead, the Mexican cemetery boasted paintings on doors, guitars and other sentimental items. One man, who was a dump truck driver, even had a dump truck painted and placed in the cemetery instead of a headstone.
“That’s the purest art form that I’ve ever seen,” Malakowski said.
Besides Malakowski’s art display, the Civic Space festival also included crafts for children, face painting and performances by local Hispanic dancers.
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