November 30, 2017

Light in Times of Darkness

Days of the Dead curator Evelyn Orantes on rituals for remembrance

By Evelyn Orantes, Independent Curator and Community Engagement Consultant

Cultures throughout the world have created dazzling and unique rituals and traditions to acknowledge the changing of the seasons. Each season celebrates a different aspect of nature; spring celebrates birth and regeneration while winter is associated with stillness, darkness, and things ending. Many of these world traditions originated as a response to the Winter Solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year. The Persian festival of Yalda, for example, celebrated on winter solstice, is viewed as the victory of light over dark. Families celebrate with feasts and stay awake all night long to welcome the morning sun. 
Like winter, death marks the ending of things and also triggers the human impulse to create rituals to help us outwardly express our inner emotions. Artists use that impulse and gift us with artworks that give form to the things that live in our hearts and minds. 
Hung Liu used her gift of painting as a ritual to create a series of small paintings over a 49-day mourning period on the one-year anniversary of her mother’s passing. Her paintings eloquently capture her mother’s transition from life to death. Chris Treggiari and Peter Foucault also use art to to honor the one-year anniversary of the tragic 2016 Ghost Ship fire and 2017 West Oakland fire. By elaborating and transforming elements from a pop-up installation at OMCA last December, created to memorialize the lives lost at the Ghost Ship fire, we’re reminded of how the living are transformed by the loss of loved ones and that we can continue to honor those lives through remembrance and action. You can see the artistic expressions by Hung, Chris, and Peter, and more in the special exhibition Metamorphosis and Migration: Day of the Deadon view through January 14, 2018 in the Gallery of California Art. 
Join me in taking some cues from the Persian Festival of Yalda and share in the victory of light over dark this winter by bringing hope and light to our community. 
Last year in response to the Ghost Ship tragedy during Friday Nights at OMCA, I invited our community to use bubble wands as a tool, a way to send silent thoughts into the night sky—bringing light to that moment of darkness. Bubbles can be symbols of your individual hopes, wishes and prayers. When the bubbles pop, those sentiments are released into the heavens. We welcome you to join us at OMCA this Friday, December 1 at 6:30 for a moment of silence and bubbles, or perhaps you might gather a group of friends and family to fill a room or the sky bubbles to demonstrate your collective wishes. Keep the bubble wands in your pocket and send some to the heavens when you think of a departed loved one or when you want to send hope to an individual or out to the world. Please use this ritual as our gift to you and share it with those you know; it is our hope to help empower you to bring you healing light to your own life when you feel darkness in this world
What other rituals or cultural traditions bring light and hope into your life?