SOMArt’s annual Dia de Los Muertos exhibition honors SF artists and Latinx people killed by police

Moving show celebrates diversity, social justice, political activism

By Jennifer Modenessi

Bay City News

For more than two decades, San Francisco’s SOMArts Cultural Center has been ground zero for one of the Bay Area’s longest-running annual Dia de los Muertos exhibitions.

Established in 1999 by the late artist, curator and activist Rene Yanez and now curated by his son, Rio Yanez, an artist and curator, and SOMArts gallery director Carolina Quintanilla, the show has become a tradition reflecting the Bay Area’s diversity and its artists’ commitment to social justice and political activism.

Carrying on last year through the pandemic, the event is back for its 22nd year at the cavernous art space at Eighth and Brannan streets. SOMArts also has a gallery on its website for those who can’t make the trip or would prefer to see show from the comfort of home.

Those who visit “Dreams Emerging, Beyond Resilience” in person won’t regret spending time with its moving, sometimes gut-wrenching, works that range from intimate to monumental. The exhibition features paintings, multimedia installations and video that speak to the power of perseverance and memory.

“What becomes possible,” the show’s organizers ask on SOMArts website, “when we are able to imagine futures beyond resilience?”

Artists Kate DeCiccio and Art Hazelwood ponder that question in “Ronnie Goodman: No More Broken Wings,” their altar honoring San Francisco artist Ronnie Goodman, who died in 2020.

With a transcendent portrait of Goodman, whose experiences in prison and living on the streets formed the basis of his art, DeCiccio and Hazelwood pay homage to the artist and one of his stirring works, a linocut print titled “Broken Wings,” which depicts an incarcerated man with wings on his back under the gaze of Frida Kahlo.

DeCiccio and Hazelwood muse on Goodman’s life and his role as “a witness to a world with many broken wings.” CDs, books, acrylic paints and other ephemera imbue the altar with Goodman’s presence while simultaneously serving as reminders of his loss. Paper feathers are scattered on the floor.

Elsewhere, curators Yanez and Quintanilla pay tribute to another influential San Francisco artist, Yanez’s mother, the late Yolanda Lopez, who’s best known for her early paintings that put a contemporary, feminist spin on the iconic image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Lopez’s rich history is rendered in loving fashion in a traditional altar filled with bits and pieces of the artist’s day-to-day life.

“Make a Ruckus: Altar for Yolanda Lopez” includes the artist’s tools and personal photographs and objects: a favorite hat, a bag of Philz coffee and a well-loved press pot. A selection of snacks — a bag of Fritos, organic gummy bears and a square of intense dark Ghirardelli chocolate — speak of simple, earthly pleasures; also, morphine syringes and oral sponges that bring moisture into the parched mouths of the ill bear witness to the artist’s battle against cancer. One of the more traditional altars in the show, it paints a full portrait of a woman, artist and activist.

Nearby, Adrian Arias takes a painterly approach to honoring the deceased in “A Poem for the Dead.”

Five monumental scrolls feature portraits of Latinx killed by police brutality in the United States and Mexico. Rendered in calligraphic brushstrokes and paint drips, the portraits form a semi-circle around a black table emblazoned with a handwritten poem. Stark and elegant, the installation simultaneously memorializes and elevates its subjects while burning with a quiet rage.

“Second Growth,” a video by Oakland-based artist LEXAGON, aka Alexa Burrell, offers an aural and visual feast as the filmmaker muses on subjects like fear, transformation and forgiveness. Filmed outdoors in nature, the powerful piece, like so many in the exhibition, serves as a reminder that art helps us make sense of what’s seemingly random or senseless, things like death or a global pandemic.

IF YOU GO

Dreams Emerging, Beyond Resilience

Where: SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St., S.F.

When: 3 to 5 p.m. and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays;noon to 2 p.m. and 2:30-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; closes Nov. 5

Admission: Free

Contact: somarts.org

Note: Gallery hours for Oct. 30 are 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and 6 to 8:30 p.m.

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