Dia de los Muertos Week: Humanities Center Hosts Cultural Events; Altars on Campus

Dia de los Muertos Week: Humanities Center Hosts Cultural Events; Altars on Campus

Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, has a week-long focus with various events on campus that are sponsored by the University of San Diego’s Humanities Center, Oct. 28-Nov. 1.

Dia de los Muertos - UC/HumanitiesCtr

Called “Dia de Muertos: Ancestral Tradition and Cultural Transformation Across Borders,” the Humanities Center hosts a celebration of art, community and memory and is working with Antonieta Mercado, PhD, an associate professor in USD’s Department of Communication Studies, who has curated the programming.

A special art exhibit in the center’s gallery space (Oct. 28 to Dec. 13) and reception, a panel discussion, faculty speakers discussing various aspects of the Day of the Dead and topped off by a poetry reading and music event to conclude the week on Nov. 1.

“This week-long event explains the different aspects of this celebration, from the artistic, to the commercial and journalistic, social criticism, and other angles. Many speakers are coming from Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico,” Mercado said.

There are two main altars on display at USD: the UC Exhibit Hall (across from Torero Store) and in the Humanities Center. The UC Exhibit Hall altar was constructed by Mercado and students in her Communication Studies 130 Introduction to Media Studies class. The Humanities Center altar was set up by USD University Galleries Director Derrick Cartwright, Dr. Mercado and her students in an international media class.

Monday, Oct. 28

Political Skeletons: The Art and Afterlife of José Guadalupe Posada

Exhibition: October 28 to December 13; Opening Reception, 4 p.m.

Humanities Center Gallery, Saints Tekakwitha and Serra Hall

Born in Mexico in 1852, legendary illustrator José Guadalupe Posada remains an iconic figure among artists and activists celebrated for his bitingly satirical prints. Regarded as the father of Mexican printmaking, Posada’s eye-catching engravings appeared on broadsides that skewered the ruling class while drawing on Mexico’s history and folklore. He became identified with the calavera, the skull or skeleton that humorously mocked earthly wealth and vanities.

After Posada’s death in 1913, his form of “art for the people” exerted a strong influence on socially conscious artists in Mexico and abroad. Today, people continue to pay homage to Posada in combining sly, subversive social commentary with graphic power and invention.

Lecture - Artistic Expression and the Materiality of Death, 4:30 p.m.

Humanities Center, Saints Tekakwitha and Serra Hall

This panel brings together artists who have worked different themes related to Day of the Dead as plastic expressions, from print arts to alebrijes and calaveras sculptures.

Moderator: Antonieta Mercado, PhD, associate professor in USD’s Department of Communication Studies. Panelists: Dania Elisai, visual artist. When Elisai learned she had cancer at 21, she started to create papier-mâché dolls and images related to the Day of the Dead as a way to celebrate life; Artemio Rodriguez, print artist and illustrator. He is the creator of political art in the style of José Guadalupe Posada and director of La Mano Gráfica in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán; Leonardo Linares, visual artist. He is the grandson of Don Pedro Linares who, more than 80 years ago, created alebrijes out of a dream. The Linares family has continued the work of creating these sculptures, often featuring fantastic hybrid creatures and skeletons.

Tuesday, Oct. 29

Death as Social Criticism and Journalism, 4 p.m.

Humanities Center, Saints Tekakwitha and Serra Hall

A discussion about the value of the Day of the Dead as a venue for grassroots expression and self-representation.

Moderator: Jillian Tullis, PhD, associate professor in USD’s Department of Communication Studies. Speakers: Regina Marchi, professor in the School of Communication at Rutgers University and author of Day of the Dead in the US; David Avalos, MFA, professor at California State University San Marcos and political artist; Alberto Pulido, PhD, professor in USD’s Department of Ethnic Studies and local community activist.

Wednesday, Oct. 30

Honoring Ancestors: Conceptions of Death Among Native Americans in San Diego, 4 p.m.

Humanities Center, Saints Tekakwitha and Serra Hall

This panel, moderated by Persephone Lewis, USD Tribal Liaison and Professor of Practice, brings together members of the local Kumeyaay and Luiseño tribal nations who discuss the importance of honoring their ancestors, as well as local traditions and practices that are particular to their communities.

Thursday, Oct. 31

The Philosophical Meaning of Death in the Civilizations of the Anahuac, noon

Humanities Center, Saints Tekakwitha and Serra Hall   

If there is no death, there is no life. Very few civilizations have incorporated rituals and reflections about death as the most-lively part of their daily cultures as those indigenous to our continent, where the origins of the modern Day of the Dead come from.

Introduction: Brian R. Clack, PhD, A. Vassiliadis director of Humanities Center and professor in USD’s Department of Philosophy; Speakers: Guillermo Marín, public intellectual. In Oaxaca, he has promoted the philosophical roots of indigenous culture in Mexico and abroad. His website,, has about 20 million visits; Luz Rodríguez, artist. Through her art, she has contributed to the promotion of indigenous dances and poetry in her native Oaxaca.

Friday, Nov. 1

Natalia Toledo, Zapotec Poetry Reading, noon

UC Exhibit Hall Gallery

A renowned Zapotec poet and the current undersecretary of diversity and culture in Mexico´s Ministry of Culture, Toledo reads her poetry, which has been translated into many languages and has received the Nezahualcóyotl Award for Indigenous Literature.

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