The Oakland Museum of California’s upcoming Day of the Dead exhibit will feature a large-scale sculpture installation dedicated to the victims of the Ghost Ship fire, which killed 36 people during a warehouse show in the Fruitvale neighborhood last December.
At that time, artist Chris Treggiari had been working with one of the victims, 35-year-old Alex Ghassan of Oakland, on a show called Oakland I Want You to Know.
“Then Ghost Ship happened,” Treggiari said.
Treggiari and collaborator Peter Foucault had been working together for nearly a decade, and they came together to produce the “Ghost Ship Memorial,” currently under construction in a gallery at the museum, in honor of Ghassan and the Dec. 2 fatal fire’s 35 other victims.
Foucault said they wanted to reference the form of a ship as a metaphor. The memorial takes the shape of a ship’s mast and three sails, with a steering wheel affixed to a wooden structure in the foreground and tributes written on cards that have been sewn onto the sails.
One last component that the artists are calling a “spiritsail” has yet to be attached. They plan to decorate it with the names of each of the fire’s 36 victims.
Nearly a year after the initial wave of shock and grief rocked the Bay Area arts community, there are still conversations happening around the impacts of the fire itself.
The focus has mostly shifted though to the economic pressures of the region’s housing market and how they can accelerate the displacement of local artists.
That problem has been exacerbated as warehouse communities with questionable construction and inadequate fire safety standards get cleared out, sometimes by unscrupulous landlords capitalizing on the Ghost Ship fire to maximize their return on investment.
“We know a lot of people who have been affected by that,” Treggiari said.
Foucault said he hopes the gallery space around the Ghost Ship Memorial will serve as a safe space for that conversation and others related to it to take place.
The artists thanked the museum for approaching them about the installation, and praised the organization for being highly responsive and focused on the Oakland community.
“That’s the beauty of the OMCA,” Treggiari said. “They really have a pulse on it.”
The Oakland Museum’s Day of the Dead exhibition, described as an exploration of tradition and transformation inspired by the annual journey of the monarch butterfly, is known as Metamorphosis and Migration.
It’s scheduled to open Oct. 18 at the museum located at 1000 Oak St. in Oakland.