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SOMArts Dia de Los Muertos Exhibition Honors Late SF Artists & Latinx People Killed by Police

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“Toxhiuhmolpil — Altar Fuego Nuevo,” a cut paper installation by Victor Mario Zaballa & Las Calacas Atomicas, with contributions from Dean MacCannell and Todd Hanson, takes center stage in SOMArts’ Culture Center’s annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition, on view through Nov. 5. (Jennifer Modenessi/Bay City News)

by Jennifer Modenessi

For more than two decades, San Francisco’s SOMArts Cultural Center has been ground zero for one of the Bay Area’s longest-running annual Dia de los Muertos exhibitions.

Founded in 1999 by the late artist, curator and community activist René Yañez and now curated by his son, Rio Yañez, an artist and curator, and Carolina Quintanilla, artist and SOMArts gallery director, the show has become a yearly tradition reflecting the Bay Area’s incredible diversity and the commitment of many of its artists to social justice and political activism.

Carrying on last year through the thick of the pandemic, the event is back for its 22nd year at the cavernous art space tucked into the corner of Eighth and Brannan streets. SOMArts has a virtual gallery on its website for those who can’t make the trip or would prefer to see the art from the comfort of home.

However, if you’re able to venture out, you won’t regret spending time with moving — and sometimes gut-wrenching — works that range from the monumental to the intimate. Titled “Dreams Emerging, Beyond Resilience,” the exhibition features a range of art, from paintings to multimedia installations to video, that speaks to the power of perseverance and memory. “What becomes possible,” the show’s organizers ask on the SOMArts website, “when we are able to imagine futures beyond resilience?”

Artists Kate DeCiccio and Art Hazelwood ponder that question in their altar honoring San Francisco artist Ronnie Goodman, who died in 2020.

Featuring a transcendent portrait of Goodman, whose experiences in prison and living on the streets formed the basis of his art, DeCiccio and Hazelwood pay homage to the artist and one of his stirring works, a linocut print titled “Broken Wings,” which depicts an incarcerated man with wings on his back under the gaze of famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

In “Ronnie Goodman: No More Broken Wings,” DeCiccio and Hazelwood muse on Goodman’s life and his role as “a witness to a world with many broken wings.” Music CDs, books, acrylic paints and other ephemera imbue the altar with Goodman’s presence while simultaneously serving as reminders of his loss. Paper feathers are scattered on the ground.

Artists Kate DeCiccio and Art Hazelwood’s altar honoring late artist Ronnie Goodman, at right, is featured in “Dreams Emerging: Beyond Resilience” on view at SOMArts Culture Center in San Francisco. (Jennifer Modenessi/Bay City News)

Elsewhere, curators Rio Yañez and Carolina Quintanilla pay tribute to another influential San Francisco-based artist, Yanez’s mother, activist Yólanda Lopez.

Known for her early series of paintings that placed a contemporary, feminist spin on the iconic image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Lopez’s rich history is rendered in loving fashion in a traditional altar filled with bits and pieces of the artist’s day-to-day life.

In “Make a Ruckus: Altar for Yolanda Lopez,” viewers will see the artist’s tools and personal photographs of Lopez interspersed with objects like a favorite hat, a bag of Philz coffee and a well-loved press pot. A selection of snacks — a bag of Fritos corn chips, organic gummy bears and a wrapped square of intense dark Ghirardelli chocolate — speak of simple, earthly pleasures; morphine syringes and oral sponges that bring moisture into the parched mouths of the ill bear witness to the artist’s battle against cancer. One of the more traditional altars in the show, it paints a full portrait of a woman, artist and activist.

Nearby, artist Adrian Arias takes a painterly approach to honoring the deceased in his work titled “A Poem for the Dead.” Five monumental scrolls feature portraits of Latinx killed by police brutality in the United States and Mexico. Rendered in calligraphic brushstrokes and paint drips, the portraits form a semi-circle around a black table emblazoned with a handwritten poem. Stark and elegant, the installation simultaneously memorializes and elevates its subjects while burning with a quiet rage.

A video titled “Second Growth,” by Oakland-based artist LEXAGON, aka Alexa Burrell, offers an aural and visual feast as the filmmaker muses on subjects like fear, transformation and forgiveness. Filmed outdoors in nature, the powerful piece, like so many in the exhibition, serves as a reminder that art — whether art-making or art viewing — can help us try to make sense of the seemingly random or senseless, like a death or a global pandemic.

The “Dreams Emerging, Beyond Resilience” exhibition runs through Nov. 5. Gallery hours are 3-5 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, and noon-2 p.m. and 2:30-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. This Saturday gallery hours are 3:30-5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Masks are required. For more information, visit somarts.org.


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