October 07, 2008

How do you create an ofrenda for Day of the Dead?

Posted by: Julia Swan

Artist Isaac Hernàndez Ruiz was in the Pacific Voices gallery at the Burke Museum all last Friday installing an altar or ofrenda (offering), in honor of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrating and remembering loved ones who have passed away. As Ruiz puts it, "For Mexican people, Día de los Muertos is the union of our past with our present and is a vital part of our identity as a culture."

The ofrenda is designed to offer food, drink, flowers, sweets, candles, and other everyday objects to the deceased and is based on the belief that these objects will help the departed continue their life after death.

So, how does one go about assembling this altar? Isaac was kind enough to let me snap some photos of him as he worked throughout the day.
Step One: Arrange the flowers. Flowers symbolize the brevity of life. The traditional type of flower found on the ofrenda is the marigold, known as the “flower of the dead.” The flowers’ scent helps the souls find their way home.
Step Two: Decorate the altar with candles, foods, toys, and other items. Candy skulls are a popular offering, especially to children.
Step Three: Begin the sand painting. Sand painting is a common practice during Día de los Muertos. These paintings decorate the street during the celebration but are later swept away, symbolizing the fleeting nature of life.
Step Four: Add color to the sand painting.


Isaac’s altar will be on view at the Burke through November 30.