When I first learned about the customs around Día de los Muertos I felt surprisingly joyous, even though the holiday is focused on remembering family and friends who are no longer living. Celebrated in Mexico and many other Hispanic cultures, the holiday is similar to the Memorial Day in the United States including rituals around remembrances, stories, and family gatherings.
What better way to remember the quirks and family legends around the grandpa’s love of tequila, or Aunt Maria’s passion for cigarettes? These favorite items are placed on the graves along with bread of the dead, a sweet bread baked with a skull and crossbones into the dough, flowers, and candles.
During this time, families gather at the cemetery to clean and refurbish grave sites. After the work is done, many will bring food and drink and make a night of celebrating the lives of these important family members. Storytelling and reminiscences play a big part of the gatherings. Copal incense is burned to help guide the spirits of the dead back to the gathering so they may partake in the celebration of remembrance. Markets are filled with Marigolds or cempasuchitl (flower of the dead), which are much taller and bigger flowers than the Marigolds seen in most gardens, which are purchased to decorate the graves. The flowers add color and scent to the altars, to guide the dead back to celebrate with friends and family.
El Día de los Muertos is recognized across the entire community with altars to remember those passed, not only in homes but in stores, local plazas and community centers. The altars are creative and personal: sugar skulls are embellished with colorful frosting spelling out the names of the remembered sit alongside photos of the remembered, festooned with papel picado, cut paper banners.
Tree of Life in Mexico City
Zocola in Mexico City
Community altar in San Angel
If you are interested in seeing more about this beautiful cultural celebration, there is a 1957 film by Charles and Ray Eames that shows more about Día de los Muertos through its icons and artifacts. http://www.openculture.com/2014/10/charles-ray-eames-short-film-on-the-mexican-day-of-the-dead-1957.html
During October, music photographers who have captured the essence of musicians from acoustic traditions exhibited their work in American Roots Music at The Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, New York. Roots music, also commonly called folk music in the United States, are musical forms created without the use of synthesizers and electronics, incorporating early blues, country, folk, rhythm and blues. Music journalist Frank Matheis organized and curated the American Roots Music exhibit inviting twelve prominent and internationally renowned music photographers in this exhibit of black and white fine art photography.
We are all familiar with the folk music tradition led by world renown king of folk music, Pete Seeger. Fine art photographer and artist, Bibiana Huang Matheis, captured images of Seeger in concert and at his home. In the photo on display, Huang Matheis caught the moment when Seeger has one hand on his beloved banjo and one arm outstretched to the audience. Seeger’s expressive face is framed against the inky black background, capturing him in song.
Bill Steber has documented blues culture in Mississippi for the last 20 years, chronicling the state’s blues musicians and traditions that gave birth to or influenced the blues. Steber’s documentary photography of guitar evangelist Flora Fluker perfectly captures her intense singing style.
Many of the photographers that document the musicians also make music. Bill Steber performs with several bands and John Rocklin is the co-founder of the Honesdale Roots & Rhythm Festival, sings and plays guitar in several bands. Rocklin’s involvement with music started at a young age when his father took him to Washington Square Park exposing him to music. “I stood right next to Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee.” Rocklin met and soon became friends with Little Sammy Davis, a blues harmonica legend. Inspired by his photographs of the musician, he pursued art photography and went on to capturing music legends such as B.B. King, Johnny Winter, and Odetta.
Douglas Baz is a freelance and fine art photographer residing in Dutchess County. The images in this exhibition are from a documentary project that he and Charles Traub photographed in Cajun Louisiana in 1974. A large exhibition and book of this work will be exhibited at the Historic New Orleans Collection Museum during 2019.
George Mitchell and Axel Küstner used a documentary approach to capture photography and field recordings of blues musicians; similar to a folklorists’ approach to documentation. Mitchell’s photo of Jesse Mae Hemphill on her porch shows that music was an everyday part of life. Axel Küstner is known as one of Europe’s blues experts. Küstner’s 1980 photo of Flora Molton sitting on a Washington D.C. corner performing to passerby depicts the essence of roots music – it is by the people and for the people.
The late Myron Samuels was a serious blues fan and photographer. Samuels was also a street musician playing blues harp at Portland, Maine area venues and farmers markets. His work in this posthumous exhibit includes photographs of Etta Baker, Ted Bogan, and John Cephas.
This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy!, October 5, 2018. American Roots Music was on display at The Howland Cultural Center, 477 Main Street, Beacon, New York; October 6-28, 2018.
All copyrights belong with the photographers in this essay.
Public artworks are part of the public realm, and the public should be part of the process, which was what happened over the last 18 months in Poughkeepsie, NY. The Poughkeepsie Route 9 underpass at Main Street was a dark, stained, gray concrete place that all visitors to the city had to pass under, is now embellished with a mural created by Risa Tochigi, known as half of the BoogieREZ artist team. Boogie and her partner REZ (T.C. Weaver) are the dynamic duo that are creating some of the most original murals and artworks in the region. Boogie creates the concept and the realization of the murals with REZ lending the critical support that every creative artist needs, while documenting the process. A gifted photographer, REZ provided the photos that accompany this article.
This mural was named The Poughkeepsie Gateway Project and began with a public call for artists to envision what they could create on the underpass, which serves as one of the major gateways to Poughkeepsie. The collaborative effort included The Poughkeepsie Alliance, who sponsored the majority of costs for the project. Arts Mid-Hudson served as the organizing partner and O+ Festival brought in connections of mural artists and paint sponsor, Golden Artist Colors. Boogie is completing the mural with paint donated by Golden Artist Colors, using a combination of custom-mixed paints in buckets and spray paints. The City of Poughkeepsie and the New York Department of Transportation actively worked to ensure the project was complying with municipal and state regulations through the work of numerous staff from these offices. Local business Baxter Construction assisted with lifts and preparation of the site, which included the concrete spaces directly under Route 9 on each side.
These collaborations were critical to making the project move ahead. Boogie commented, “Without everyone you can’t do big projects like this.” REZ added, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” Boogie mentioned the positive energy that is created in doing a large-scale public artwork like this: “I feel like I am not doing this for me, but for the community.”
And the community approves – in the times I was present at the mural location, people stopped by to thank Boogie for the beautiful reimagination of the space. Many parents have been bringing their children to the site and encouraging them to meet Boogie and thank her for the artwork.
Boogie’s signature style blends joyful, bright colors with a hip-hop cartoon vibe. The yellow background serves as a cheery base color for flowers and imaginary animals with big googly eyes marching across the expanse. Boogie’s world includes ducks with bunny ears, flowers with eyes and other creatures straight out of the artist’s imagination. Uplifting messages, such as “Aspire to Inspire” are woven into the composition. Boogie mentioned that one aspect of her job as an artist is to “continue to inspire the youth in our community to pursue their passions. Everyone has different ways to express themselves.”
Katherine Hite, a neighboring resident was passing by during my visit and commented, “We’re so excited to see this uplifting and affirming project for Poughkeepsie – it makes me happy to be a homeowner in the city.”
This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal’s Enjoy Magazine on August 10, 2018.
The Poughkeepsie Gateway Mural Project is located on Main Street at the Route 9 underpass in Poughkeepsie.
All photos are copyright and courtesy of Rezones/Boogierez 2018.
Unison Arts Center and SUNY New Paltz students have collaborated to create installations responding with ephemeral sculptural installations using an Eco Materialism theme. Inspired by Linda Weintraub’s forthcoming book, What’s Next? Eco Materialism & Contemporary Art, this exhibit responds to the urgent environmental neglect we witness in the world today. The exhibiting artists present their artworks as thoughtful responses, including the selection of materials.
The exhibit, What’s Next, also provides an ideal opportunity for a summer stroll with time to pause and consider each of the 29 stations where work has been constructed onsite, many times with items sourced from the Unison property. Michael Asbill, Visiting Lecturer at SUNY New Paltz involved students in his Collaborative Constructions course in this exhibit. Amanda Heidel, participated as a student and commented, “Starting with reading and interpreting Linda Weintraub’s text to form a proposal, to developing a list of artists to invite to respond to the text, contacting artists, reviewing of proposals, preparing the site at Unison, and assisting artists with installing their work, students were involved in every aspect of mounting this exhibit.” Visitors to the site will experience artworks that are about process, while some project a utopian viewpoint of beauty. At the gateway to the installation pick up a walking guide to get additional information on the artists’ process in approaching Eco Materialism in their pieces.
Moira Williams exhibits Matters of Care, featuring a stack of cannon-ball size soil filled with positive bacteria. The artist has researched Mycobacterium vaccae, known as the ‘happy bacteria’ living in soil and invites all who pass to take one home to share. Beth Haber’s installation To Be Written shows four paired slate tablets placed on podiums supported by the remains of four ash trees in a compass formation. Visitors have the opportunity to write messages, which will then be wiped clean by the natural process of rain, wind, or over-writing, suggesting that we have the power to start a new movement that considers nature first.
As you meander further down the path you might be drawn to the sound of water where Susan Togut’s Emergent Wisdom is installed above the Unison pond. Togut’s statement reads, “this environment seeks to evoke an appreciation for change, transformation, uncertainty, the magic of the unknown as in creativity, and the ephemerality of life.” Most of the pieces in the show focus on the transient, from the materials, used that naturally change over time, to the concepts presented in each piece. Jan Harrison and Alan Baer created Halcyon, a mythical nest-world for endangered and bird-like creatures that floats above in the tree limbs. The artists stated this is a “refuge and a place of rebirth in the global world of the sixth extinction, the Anthropocene.”
Exploring the exhibit heightens our sense of awareness towards the natural world. Perhaps this will extend our views on Eco Materialism as a life practice and new art movement that could change our world for the better, ensuring that we have a say in what’s next.
All photos in this essay by Linda Marston-Reid. All copyrights remain with the artists described in this essay.
This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy! section July 27, 2018.
My memory of the relentless winter of 2018 will be that it continued on and on, vengefully adding that one little ice storm the second week of April. However, I was on a countdown to leaving for a week-long escape to Mexico. The weather may have been hard to ignore but I was dreaming of not being weighed down by layers of coats and sweaters and feeling the sun on my skin.
My husband Scott and I have been traveling to Mexico since 1992, which means 26 years of exploring the interior through public transportation such as bus, collectivo, and train. We will never forget that first trip when we took the train through the states of Michoacán and Leon, stopping in Morelia, Patzcuaro, and Guanajuato, then traveling back to Mexico City where we caught the train to Oaxaca, meeting lifelong friends Robert Forman and Robin Schwartz. There are so many stories about these years of travel and changes within Mexico, such as the discontinued train service and increased flights to outlying regions, but I’m getting caught up in the past – what I am writing about today is escaping to a place that is filled with art and communities that engage with art that focus on enjoying a good life.
This time, we had initially planned a trip to Mexico City, but hearing that our friends Rick and Oscar had never been to Oaxaca, we all booked an extra flight to Oaxaca to share travel experiences of Oaxaca.
When I remember our travels, the best discoveries, most delicious food, and stunning art comes to mind. However, I am no romantic. I also remember the difficulties and challenges, like navigating one of the largest airports in the world with poor directional signage. Departing from Mexico City that morning, there were several lines filled with epic switchbacks of humanity pushing huge, bulging suitcases. We made our way into the right line creeping along for 40 minutes and just as we made our way to the fourth set of switchbacks into the bag check area, we were pulled from the line by an airline employee announcing, Oaxaca! As the lines re-organized themselves into those traveling to Oaxaca and those going elsewhere, we realized another 30 minutes had passed and the boarding time was 30 minutes away. No worries, we thought, all we have to do is check this suitcase and go through security.
After checking the suitcase, we were told to go through the security line directly next to us – we were stunned to see the line snaking down to the end of the terminal. We gamely walked to the end of the line when we heard a shout, “Oaxaca” and an airline employee ran up the ramp leading 25 persons at a brisk trot. We ran after them for around ten minutes and saw that we had been led to the International boarding security gate with fewer people in line. We made it through security and looked around – all of our fellow runners for Oaxaca were gone and we now nervously looked for our boarding gate called “T1.”
At the Mexico City airport, all the gates are numbered – we asked airport employees where gate T1 was, they thought there was a language error and checked the reader board – yes, T1. Some of the airport staff pointed in a direction trying to be helpful, others pointed in the opposite direction – we ran and ran, back and forth, and my step tracker recorded over two miles in that terminal. Finally, we found gate T1, upstairs one-half floor next to a pizza franchise – the gate had closed two minutes prior – we had missed our flight.
That was when we discovered there were not many flights to Oaxaca, at least not that day. We could have bought a one-way ticket for four times the price on a major airline, but that didn’t seem like a real option. All of our past travel experience had given us the tools to get to Oaxaca today – we took a taxi to the TAPO bus station and boarded an ADO bus to Oaxaca at 11:00 a.m. The seven and a half hour bus trip seemed somewhat bitter, but we thought at least we’d be in Oaxaca tonight in time for dinner.
The ADO Executivo bus service is clean and rather spacious, with reclining seats, restroom, and drop down screens with fascinating movies on them. As we traveled further south from Mexico City, we enjoyed the scenery of the high desert near the area of Tehuacán, seeing Joshua Trees and desert flowers similar to the area of Southern California where we all spent our childhoods.
The final few hours of the bus ride takes you over a windy mountainous road – about 30 minutes into this road our bus driver pulls the bus over, stops and gets out of the bus. Sitting at the back of the bus, I see him open an engine cover and have a discussion with another man – I thought, this can’t be good. The driver gets back on the bus and tells us that the bus cannot go onward due to mechanical difficulties. He will try to contact ADO bus company to have everyone picked up.
One thing I have noticed as a traveler in Mexico is when news like this happens, people may be disappointed, but there is a communal sense that we’ll all get through this just fine. People got up out of their seat and strolled about outside, unpacked snacks, and we admired the moonflower bushes and rock cliffs on the roadside. We watched our bus driver try to scramble up a rock cliff in a valiant attempt to get a signal on his cell phone to make that phone call.
Another thing I have noticed as a traveler in Mexico is that everyone will work together: the bus driver flagged down passing buses and everyone stopped to find out if they could help, take some passengers, or promise to call someone when they got to Oaxaca. The remaining passengers began to diminish as they got seated on each passing bus. After several buses stopped we were finally squeezed into a bus that delivered us to a station in Oaxaca a couple of hours later.
While this was not the adventure we had planned, we met some new people and had good conversations, like Quetzalcoatl (just call him Quetzal) who is studying to be a medical technologist and was going home for a holiday, or Sara, the young Australian woman traveling to Oaxaca for the first time by herself. When we finally arrived at our lodgings, we felt fortunate and looked forward to dinner that night in Oaxaca.
All photos in this essay by Linda Marston-Reid, copyright 2018.
ARTBAR Gallery presented “Full Circle,” a one-person exhibit featuring Laura Gurton’s artworks inspired by the genesis of nature in all forms. The exhibit includes paintings, digital works on paper, reliefs, and sculpture relating to the continued exploration of her series, “Unknown Species.” Gurton focuses her vision on examining nature at the microscopic level using her signature circular forms. The artworks contain the common thread of concentric circular lines and colors that mimic pieces of agate, rings inside of trees, mold and other patterns in nature.
“Full Circle” is a perfect example of the value of a one-person exhibit, allowing viewers an opportunity to fully appreciate the artist’s vision. Gurton’s signature style comes through in all her artwork, echoing naturally occurring shapes that provide the rhythms of existence and life. For instance, Gurton’s paintings from the “Unknown Species” feature shimmering concentric circles with complex colors with organically shaped interiors. As in nature, all designs begin with the genome but manifest themselves in unique forms. These shapes and designs respond to artworks in three dimensions as the artist begins to expand the designs with dimensionality, recently expanding into sculptural objects and paintings.
For instance, in “Three Dimensions, No. 3,” Gurton creates patterns that appear to be floating in space. The shapes have grown off the surface of the painting and could be a pearlescent colony of dwellings in another universe. Looking closer, viewers could see an influence of the traditional Australian Aborigine artwork with patterns of dots. In the “Mandala” series on paper, the artist has selected designs from her works to create a new circular form on paper, and similarly, created new compositions in the “Bits and Pieces” series using sections and details from previous paintings, creating artworks reminiscent of African trade cloth.
Visitors to the show could get lost in the dreamy paintings, some which seem like a vision of another universe. “Unknown Species, No. 198” could be an unexplored galaxy or a microcosm under a slide. The lavender and blue in the background make the centered design in warm colors pop out of the painting. In “Unknown Species, No. 247,” shades of green, the horizontal composition, and elegant patterning bring to mind Gustav Klimt.
In “Unknown Species, No. 269” Gurton paints a mandala in more somber tones of black, white, and touches of brown, showing her artistic sense goes beyond color. The hypnotic design is painted on a 36” canvas with a larger than life presence. Viewers may have their own interpretation of the image, but the artist commented that she “sees the shapes with their concentric circles as a representative for time itself, displaying their growth like the rings in a tree which comes with age. When they overlap each other, they display the passage of time in layers.”
Ultimately, “Full Circle” demonstrates that Laura Gurton has hit her stride. She continues to enlarge her vision using a highly expressive representation of nature’s beauty and captures the primary essence of these elements.
Full Circle: works by Laura Gurton was on exhibit at ARTBAR Gallery May 5 through May 26, 2018. ARTBAR Gallery is located at 674 Broadway, Kingston, New York
This article appeared originally in the May 4, 2018, Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy! edition.
Photo Credits: Unknown Species #198, Debra DeGraffenreid, Photographer; Unknown Species #247, Robert Hansen-Sturm, Storm Photo Inc., Unknown Species #269, Robert Hansen-Sturm, Storm Photo Inc.
Kenro Izu is looking back at a successful photographic career that has spanned more than 40 years and acknowledged that it was a fellowship at the Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) that launched his career. Izu reflected on the opportunity and admitted it wasn’t just the money, but the importance of the professional encouragement of CPW’s founder, Howard Greenberg, and connecting him to opportunities to develop his photographic practice.
During January 2018, Izu displays a selection of his photography series “Sacred Places,” which has been internationally exhibited. The exhibit is up at Aaron Rezny Gallery in Kingston and is organized by CPW, with a portion of sales to benefit the photography center’s programming.
Izu uses a large-format camera favored by 19th-century photographers, stating that, “It captures air and the subtle nuances of tonality in platinum printing.” The 14-inch by 20-inch custom-made camera was purchased with funding he received from an NEA grant in 1984. Despite weighing 300 pounds, the camera has traveled with him during his photographic explorations, creating the platinum palladium contact prints that are included in this exhibit.
The photographer has traveled the world seeking out the places that are sacred to people, including areas of Tibet, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and India. Izu explained that he first traveled to Egypt in the 1970s and discovered he was especially drawn to the stone monuments. This has led to his photographing a number of places most would call the “Seven Wonders of the World,” including Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and Chichén Itzá.
While traveling in Hampi, India, Izu came upon a sight that he captured in “Vijayanager #15.” The elaborate shrine-like structure was built on a massive stone, designating a sacred place reachable by rock climbing. The contrast between the giant rock and the detailed architectural structure is surprising. In another human touch, the base of the stone has been patched to ensure its continued stability.
In the image “Kanchipuram #638,” the photographer has placed himself within a sacred space on a pathway with the deity directly ahead. In the shrine’s low interior light, viewers can observe carved stone columns receding into the distance along a pathway alight with devotional fires.
In “Ladakh #49,” captured in Ramayuru Gompa, India, the photographer uses the light across the mountains to highlight the sacred temple built on a hill surrounded by a small village. Capturing the last light of the day, the spectacular shadows encircle the sacred place in a series of gradations, creating an abstracted composition of darks and lights.
Delicate outlines in fog of Taj Mahal
Izu travels to and focuses on a region, becoming familiar with the local customs from there; he awaits inspiration to discover the sacred places. As his travels took him to the far reaches within Cambodia and Laos, he was moved by the children’s dire health conditions. On his return to New York Izu founded a charitable foundation, Friends Without a Border, that built a free pediatric hospital in Cambodia in order to give back to the people who have inspired his photographic journey.