Tag Archives: Bare Hands Inc.

Birmingham’s Dia de los Muertos 2016

A look at the skyline of Bare Hands Inc.'s Dia de los Muertos festival in its new venue - Cahaba Brewery this year.

A look at the skyline of Bare Hands Inc.’s Dia de los Muertos festival in its new venue – Cahaba Brewery this year. Murals of Spider Martin and Guillermo Castro are displayed at the start of the altar displays.

I’ve said this before – aside from my beloved Fiesta, Bare Hands Inc.’s Dia de los Muertos festival is one of my favorites of the year.  Both just celebrated year 14 and both will celebrate their 15th – or Quinceanera – next year.  For a festival to make it that long is impressive and this year was even more so for DOTD Alabama.

Early in the year, I heard the festival had been cancelled.  They had lost their long time location due to some changes in the geographic region and had also gone through some leadership changes with the retirement of long time ED Wendy Jarvis and installation of new ED, Robert Hernandez.  But like any organization with volunteers who have a passion for what they do – they persevered and several months into 2016, they decided the show would go on (as they say) and partnered with Cahaba Brewery to move the festival to Avondale.

Roll Call of the dead is a time honored tradition at the festival - as names are called, if family/friends are in attendance, they call out "present" in the audience...

Roll Call of the dead is a time honored tradition at the festival – as names are called, if family/friends are in attendance, they call out “present” in the audience…

And what a move!  The festival drew over 6,000 people this year!  As I was leaving at 8:30 I ran into Robert and Festival Director-Jennifer Gowers and their faces said it all… Jennifer grabbed me and said “where are all these people coming from?!”  We looked at the entrance and people were still streaming in and the festival opened at 4 p.m.  After a group hug, we talked about the incredible turnout and all the hard work it took to pull the event together in a shorter period of time.  Incredible is the only word I could think of at that moment.  Labor of love is the phrase I choose now.

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Day of the Dead is not your ordinary festival, after all.  It is a way for people to honor and celebrate the memory of loved ones who have left us.  The altar installations and tributes are always very moving and I find myself lingering in front of several because of the unique ways in which people are honored and remembered.  I met a young woman from Mexico who described in detail the altar that she and her family pulled together to honor her family.  Every single item on that altar had a unique significance and as she pointed them out to me, along with the stories, I felt myself tearing up.  What a tribute!  What  beautiful stories…and I was so appreciate that she was sharing these with me.  But then again, that is what this festival is all about…sharing your family stories, sharing the stories of your friends and others you love and cherish so that they are always remembered…

A portion of the altar that had so many interesting details recounted to me by a family member.  Very traditional...

A portion of the altar that had so many interesting details recounted to me by a family member. Very traditional…

That’s what Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos means…that’s what Robert, Jennifer and the rest of the board members and volunteers accomplished this past November 2nd.  Viva la Vida!!!

Artist Julianna Jackson poses with her incredible headpiece in the DOD Market.  The creations at her booth were exquisite!

Artist Julianna Jackson poses with her incredible headpiece in the DOD Market. The creations at her booth were exquisite!

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Dia de los Muertos 2015…a look back…

A little girl admires the sugar skull masks at Dia de los Muertos Birmingham Festival 2015

A little girl admires the sugar skull masks at Dia de los Muertos Birmingham Festival 2015

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos is tomorrow and Birmingham has one of the best celebrations around!  This is a story I did for Alabama News Center last year about the festival.  I look forward to sharing more photos and stories from DOD 2016 later this week!  (By the way…I’m about to #bloglikecrazy for the month of November as a blogging challenge through See Jane Write!  Should be fun!)

Birmingham’s annual Day of the Dead Festival, organized by the nonprofit Bare Hands Inc., was Monday, Nov. 2 in downtown. This was the 13th year for the festival that celebrates the lives of departed loved ones with lively celebrations, food, music, flowers, dancing and stories. The event has grown in popularity in recent years and continues to expand, drawing a diverse crowd.

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican tradition that celebrates life rather than mourning death. The day coincides with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2). Many people describe this event as a colorful, vibrant and joyful commemoration rather than something somber. Altars feature photos, food or drink and hobbies of lost loved ones. Many Hispanic members of the community have embraced this event and participate as a remembrance of their native country.

Mural by artist Tim Kerr honored the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights era.  Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015

Mural by artist Tim Kerr honored the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights era. Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015

This year, the festival invited visual artist Tim Kerr from Austin, Texas, to create the central memorial. He chose a mural to honor departed foot soldiers of the civil rights movement. It was featured next to the altar honoring photographer Spider Martin. This annual altar is created by his daughter, Tracy Martin – a founder of the festival – and always draws a crowd.

While the festival honors the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead, it incorporates other elements that make it unique. To many Alabamians, it brings to mind Decoration Day in the South. It also gives a New Orleans feel with the jazz funeral parade and procession that takes place around the event. “Dressing up” is a mainstay at the festival. A parade honoring celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo marched along with the jazz band and paraders performed on the main stage.

A young girl has her face painted as sugar skull at the festival.  This is one of the most popular things to do at Dia de los Muertos.

A young girl has her face painted as sugar skull at the festival. This is one of the most popular things to do at Dia de los Muertos.

The children’s area provided families with sugar skull or “calavera” crafts, activities and a puppet show. Speaking of sugar skulls, having one’s face painted at the festival is popular and not limited to children. The line to have faces painted was long but the results were praised. The public altar area provided a place for attendees to bring photos and personal remembrances or “ofrendas” and honor a departed loved one. One young woman, born and raised in Alabama, commented that she didn’t know much about Day of the Dead until recently when a friend told her about it. She was looking for a way to pay tribute to her father, who recently passed away, and she was excited to take part in this year’s event.

“I want to remember the good times and not dwell on my dad’s death,” she said. “I think this is why events like this are so meaningful and powerful to people like me.”  She held a picture of her father holding her as a baby, and brought his favorite fruit, an apple, to include in the public altar area. Through tears, she remarked how happy she was to be a part of the event.

A couple dresses out in full sugar skull makeup and colorful clothing for Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015.

A couple dresses out in full sugar skull makeup and colorful clothing for Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015.

One of the most heartfelt moments at the festival is the annual roll call. People submit names of deceased loved ones to be called out from the main stage. As names are called, family and friends in the audience hold up pictures of their loved ones.

Robert Hernandez, a festival volunteer, created an altar to honor his family as well as Selena, who was known as the Queen of Tejano music before her murder in 1995. His creation of a large white flower was a central feature of his altar highlighted with music from the late artist. Hernandez met someone attending the festival who knows Selena’s family. The friend took pictures and promised to pass them along to her family.

Altar by Robert Hernandez dedicated to Tejana Musician Selena was a popular stop at Dia de los Muertos Birmigham 2015.

Altar by Robert Hernandez dedicated to Tejana Musician Selena was a popular stop at Dia de los Muertos Birmigham 2015.

Another volunteer noted that Day of the Dead in Birmingham is not a secret anymore.  “More and more people are discovering the beauty of this holiday and want to be here,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful and uplifting night.”

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