AUSTIN, Texas - The Mexic Arte Museum Día de Muertos annual exhibit is up already, it honors members of the Hispanic community who’ve died due to COVID-19; this year there’s also a new augmented reality mural by artist Christin Apodaca paying tribute to more than 200 dead in Travis County.
The celebrations have the same meaning, remembering and celebrating those who have died, but this year, the weight is heavier.
Executive director and co-founder Sylvia Orozco started the museum in 1984, today she says it’s needed not more than ever.
Sylvia Orozco is a tiny woman, but like the mural wall outside the Mexic Arte Museum, she’s the mera mera. “We came up with the idea of the mero muro, the big wall, the big powerful wall,” Orozco says translating what she said in Spanish to English.
Orozco is a powerful woman, the brains behind this Austin museum showcasing Latino artists. She says Austin lacks culturally relevant and inviting art.
Her hope is the Mexic Arte Museum will make her community feel welcome. “[When you see the wall] You say, ‘oh! they are like me, they speak my language! That’s a place we will all feel welcome,” Orozco says as she looks over the newest mural work on the wall.
It’s an augmented reality mural done by El Pasoan, Christin Apodaca, showing a Catrina Skull with monarch butterflies, that represent the journey of immigrants from Mexico to the U.S.
Inside the museum, where they store dozens of collections, she has her hand in every piece of art, like a new embroidery that just arrived from Michoacán, Mexico. She carefully opens the piece as she describes the art, “This is also from Michoacán, she took several months to do this,” Orozco says.
It’s from an artist she met during an art trip, and even though the piece is new, Orozco knows every detail about it.
“Sochil means flower [in Nahuatl], it’s is the flower that is used to decorate the cemeteries and the graves,” Orozco says, pointing to the hand-embroidered piece. “Here you see the La Catrina, coming to the cemetery & she’s so happy.”
“We’re going to have it up so people can see the wonderful work of Teófila from Michoacán, Mexico,” Orozco says showing off the art. “They have the typical clothing of the women from Michoacán.”
The exhibit is not only special because of the meaning, it’s also special because this celebration of death was the birth of Orozco’s museum idea. “I originally went to Mexico and toured my first Día de Muertos in 1979, that was my introduction with Día de Muertos and it was such a beautiful tradition that when I came back to Austin, that was the first event we wanted to do so we could share it with other people,” Orozco remembers.
Sharing art is her life's work. It’s hard for her to talk about herself and how iconic her work has been. Her eagerness to elevate her people’s work flows out like the beautiful colors you see here.
Upstairs in the museum storage, there are hundreds of masks that have been donated to the museum. Every piece is her baby. “They apply the paper over it, the paper maché and then paint them, spray paint them, with the glue,” Orozco explains showing a skull mask.
The question is, how did this obsession for art begin?
“For me, I think it goes back to my father. He was a master bootmaker, he was an artist, but he was never really recognized as an artist,” Orozco remembers. “I would watch him work and all the patience and the love that would go into making each artwork and I learned to appreciate creation and patience of an artist, so it wasn’t until later I actually realized, he is an artist, he was an artist and my mother was the same, she was a writer.”
Orozco says she never forgets where she came from and her humble beginnings.
“Those are the kind of art, artist and role models I had as a child because I grew up in a little town, Cuero, Texas, about 90 miles from here and we didn't have a car, we had two channels on the TV and so I had never been to an art museum until I went to college,” Orozco, the University of Texas graduate says.
“I saw what could be and the richness of our culture and our tradition and so I want to share that with everyone so that they can feel the pride that I feel because I know that I stand on a foundation of artists and intellects, of writers, of great people and great artisans and human beings and that makes me feel very proud and I want every child, every person to feel that pride,” Orozco says beaming.
“So these are the photos by Mary Jane Andrade from Lake Patzcuaro,” Orozco says down in the exhibit gallery. Every detail ingrained within her.
“You have the offerings that are actually placed on the crosses or on the wreaths,” Orozco says describing exhibit photos. “You see the actual graves that are decorated.”
This year, the altar, or offering, carries the same traditions with the bread, the decorations, and the sugar skulls, but the meaning carries a heavier weight.
“This is Mari Eugenia Ramiro Flores, and she is from Mexico City,” Orozco says describing one of the offerings. “Three different levels which symbolize the heavens, the earth and here she forms it as a cross.”
“People are dying as we speak and somehow everyone that you talk to you as a family member friend or several people who have passed away [from COVID19],” Orozco says.
“We do need a place where we can maybe rest our minds to think about our family members, not so much how they died but that they died and now remember them and to think about the goodness that they brought to the world and I think that’s why [this space] is important,” Orozco says.
It’s a moment to think about the hermanos, hermanas, tios, tias, abuelos, abuelas, and all the greats we've lost this year. “Death is so much a part of our lives, and it’s very much with us today,” Orozco said.
The Dia de Los Muertos exhibit runs through November 22 with a virtual celebration.
Right now, the museum is fundraising to help pay for a complete building renovation and expansion, if you’re interested in participating or learning more check out www.mexic-artemuseum.org.