About the Project

The Exhibition

Young People’s Ofrenda: Expressions of Life and Remembrance
at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, November 1 through December 4, 2011
Katherine Kierland Herberger Gallery (110); free.

The wooden fruit crate in which students from four Minnesota high schools will create their ofrendas.

This deeply personal, moving exhibition of student work is the result of a unique partnership between the MIA and Austin High School (Greater Minnesota), Thomas Edison High School (Minneapolis), El Colegio High School (Minneapolis), and Humboldt Secondary School (St. Paul). The students explore world cultures’ reverence for ancestors in art and Day of the Dead traditions in Mexico in the classroom and the museum. They draw inspiration from these and other experiences to create personal ofrendas(offerings) – altars or shrines to honor friends, family, or community members who have passed away. Interact with the project online as it unfolds in the classroom beginning in early September. A selection of student ofrendas from each school is on view the museum November 1 through December 4.

Students use wooden crates to symbolize the migrant population that came to Minnesota to work in the fields. Each ofrenda reflects the student’s own experience. In inviting students from diverse communities to learn about and create their own ofrendas, we acknowledge that the Day of the Dead is a very personal, spiritual tradition. It is important to us that we not ask students to imitate or make Mexican ofrendas. Rather, we envision students paying tribute to this rich cultural tradition by creating their own personal and contemporary ofrendas—in the spirit of the Mexican tradition.

This project Web site and blog follows the students’ progress in creating their ofrendas. Here we present the videos they have made, in which they relate their perspectives and insights as they honor their ancestors. Their final ofrendas and videos will be on view in an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts between November 1 and December 4, 2011.

The Video Project

The handheld video cameras have been acquired for this project, with the support of Best Buy, so the participating students can record their thoughts and perspectives as they create their ofrendas. Their videos are edited and presented here. During this three-week process, students focus on weekly topics.

Phase 1: Honor Ancestors—Students explore how artists around the world have expressed reverence for ancestors in artwork and the importance of Day of the Dead in Mexican culture. They explore ideas and concepts for their ofrendas and choose a subject. The subject can be personal, such as a tribute to a relative or friend, or it can address traditional themes.

Phase 2: Turn Ideas into Image—The students visit the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and tour international artworks from the permanent collection that illustrate reverence for ancestors and attitudes about death. They learn how artists have successfully translated ideas into images as they continue to conceptualize their personal ofrendas.

Phase 3: Create a Personal Ofrenda—In this phase, students start to decorate their ofrendas, using materials they have collected during the first two weeks. Some students may make personal drawings, while others may create small, ceramic sculptures, or use personal items such as photos or other mementos.

Phase 4: Write an Artist’s Statement—With their ofrendas near completion, students write narratives about their ofrendas, which are used as the label texts for the exhibition, printed in both Spanish and English.

Phase 5: Exhibit Ofrendas—Each partner school sends a selection of ofrendas to the museum for exhibition in Gallery 110. Student artists and their families attend an opening reception in their honor at the museum. Schools are encouraged to exhibit a selection of ofrendas in their school gallery, district office, media center, or other venue.

The Teacher’s Guide

We have Spanish and English versions of the Teacher’s Guide as a downloadable pdf (new this year).

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead (in Spanish, Día de los Muertos) is celebrated November first and second each year. Probably based on an ancient Aztec festival, Day of the Dead is a celebration in which family and friends gather to honor those who have died. The departed souls are believed to return to visit their living relatives on this holiday. The celebrants create ofrendas, or offerings, for the deceased, which contain favorite foods, mementos, pictures, and flowers. They can also recount amusing family stories or anecdotes. These offerings are meant to welcome the souls so they can communicate with their living relatives and friends. Images of skulls and skeletons are seen during the festival and in the ofrendas, demonstrating that death is a natural part of the life cycle. Día de los Muertos is primarily celebrated by people of Mexican heritage living in Mexico and throughout the world. In the United States, many cities with Mexican-American populations celebrate this tradition in the weeks before and after November first and second.

Generous support is provided by Best Buy Co., Inc. and Cargill.