On Sunday, October 30, the Center for the Arts will once again host its Día de los Muertos celebration after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. This year the celebration will be centered around luchadores.
Multimedia artist Miriam Alarcon Avila has been creating work on luchadores for several years, including her Little Luchadores project and Immigrant Luchadores project. In Spanish she says, beam has a double meaning.
“This is the lucha mask [used by professional wrestlers] and also the drive to put all your heart and soul into achieving and overcoming an obstacle,” explains Alarcon Avila. “When you translate lucha, it’s like wrestling. And this is a small part of it, but a ray is greater than a fight; it’s a whole journey, going through the process of putting in everything you can and achieving success. That’s why I use them.
In Alarcón Avila’s Immigrant Luchadores project, she uses portraits and handmade masks to tell the stories of Latinos who have immigrated to Iowa. She interviews them and then creates individual luchador masks inspired by their stories. The result is colorful portraits, prose and taped interviews of luchadores who live, work and play in Iowa. The anonymity of lucha masks allows Alarcon Avila’s luchadores to tell the stories of their immigration to Iowa or the mistreatment they received upon arrival here. Many of these interviews have been recorded or turned into poetry and prose by writers at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Alarcón Avila’s Little Luchadores are similar, but this project features portraits of children who have created their own masks. According to Alarcon Avila, representation is the goal of this project.
“When I imagined my job, I was always in love with children. Young Latino children usually go through places where they can’t see their faces and don’t feel represented,” explains Alarcon Avila. “And I see my children in their faces. You know, the brown faces, the noses, the smiles, the skin tones. I know they are different children, it’s just that we have these phenotypic characteristics. The same characteristics that have been stereotyped and plagued by discrimination are the same beautiful traits that we carry in our genetics. So I think it’s important to be proud of that.”
Beginning October 28 through January 15, visitors will be able to view Alarcón Avila’s masks, portraits, and video interview series in the lower level of the Art Center as part of the Iowa Artists 2022 series.
Alongside the Alarcon Ávila exhibit, she was commissioned to build the Art Center’s Día de los Muertos offering. Building an ofrenda has always been a part of Alarcón Avila’s life, and this year she is excited to build one for the community. She is also excited for people to visit her exhibit during the celebration. During the event, her exhibit will feature activities such as a memory wall where little luchadores can write memories for their loved ones.
“After all, we celebrate the dead because it’s part of life. It just comes full circle,” Alarcon Avila said. “Celebrating the Day of the Dead is celebrating life. And be thankful because we are still here and we can still celebrate it.
You can see the Alarcón Avila exhibit at the Des Moines Art Center from October 28th through January 15th. Learn more about the exhibition at Alarcón Avila’s lecture on Sunday, November 13. Celebrate Día de los Muertos at the Art Center on October 30 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The ofrenda will be on view at the Art Center until November 14.