La Mesa artist creates Dia de los Muertos altar to honor chicana artist Yolanda Lopez at fall festival

Each year the artist Katie Ruiz creates an ofrenda (altar) at home in honor of Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday to honor deceased loved ones. This year she was commissioned to create one

Each year the artist Katie Ruiz creates an ofrenda (altar) at home in honor of Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday to honor deceased loved ones. This year she was commissioned to create one and chose to dedicate it to an artist for whom she has deep respect and admiration, the late Yolanda Lopez, who has created decades of both radical works. and widely celebrated.

“I chose Yolanda Lopez because I felt it was an opportunity to showcase a chicana artist and create a learning experience for people in North County who may not have heard of its groundbreaking work, ”she says. “It gives me the opportunity to talk about her and then people can go and see her work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, so it seemed like the perfect time.” (Lopez’s work is featured in the first solo exhibition of his pieces, “Yolanda Lopez: Portrait of the artist”, and features dozens of works she premiered between 1975 and 1988, most of them while attending UC San Diego.)

Ruiz’s ofrenda in honor of Lopez is a community effort with approximately 100 volunteer collaborators and is part of the San Diego Botanical Garden Fall Festival, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and on October 31 at the Jardin d’Encinitas. Ruiz, 37, is an artist who works extensively with figure painting and sculpture, incorporating elements and objects from nature into her work. She lives in La Mesa and took the time to talk about this ofrenda dedicated to Lopez, the impact of Lopez’s work on her own art and the importance of the Dia de los Muertos party in her life.

Question: Tell us about the ofrenda.

A: I had about six months to think of a few ideas before I started. I took pictures of the garden spaces and drew my ideas on an iPad. Then we had pom pom parties at various locations where groups of people came together to create pom poms as a community (brightly colored little balls usually made from yarn).

This altar has a 60 inch round base that you can walk on and is over 10 feet tall. Garden volunteers built a wooden shelf structure, which narrows down to an archway with oil-painted portraits I created of the late Yolanda Lopez, in her signature poses (Virgin of) Guadalupe . Garden volunteers, Poway Girl Scout Troop 2011 and You Belong Here from San Diego, created over 1,500 pom poms for the event. Pompoms decorate the altar and its surroundings.

I created giant calaveras (skulls) and fruits out of papier mache, as well as giant papel picado (a type of Mexican folk art created by cutting patterns out of paper) and images of Yolanda and her paintings, incense, water and a palette of paints and brushes, which were the artist’s favorite items. I knew I wanted to make a lot of orange pom poms that mimic the look of marigolds, another important aspect of the ofrenda. I wanted to use a lot of craft items, like traditional papier mache, because I’m interested in crafts as a fine art, and I generally try to use materials that can be considered childish. or less valuable in the eyes of society, then I flip it over on her until you can’t deny her place in the fine art world.

It took all of these people two months to make things, and a few months of conversation and design before that. It was a fun experience that brought people together.

Question: What influence have the life and work of Yolanda Lopez had on you?

A: When I first heard about Yolanda Lopez and her work, I had returned to San Diego after my graduate scholarship at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture in New York. I had never had a formal education in Chicano art before. I grew up in Arizona during a time when Chicano studies were banned, and I hadn’t learned much about my own culture. As I navigated my world with a Caucasian mother and Mexican father, as a Chicana artist living on the border, I began to see Chicano as his own culture. Lopez’s work is so brave and so daring. Her work, and that of others like Judy Baca and Laura Aguilar, has opened up a new world to me, and my voice in the art world.

Question: What’s the first piece of her that you remember seeing? What was your first reaction to this piece, and why?

A: My first reaction was, “Whoa. I had made paintings similar to his with a figure of Guadalupe replaced by other figures. However, I was too scared to actually show the artwork for fear of negative reactions. So when I saw her work I thought about how brave it was, what she was doing, and how scared she must be to show the work based on the implications of the paintings. These implications being that all women are holy, that Latinas are holy, that working women and aging women are all enlightened.

What I like about La Mesa …

I’ve lived all over this county, from Oceanside to Carlsbad, from Little Italy to Sherman Heights, and now La Mesa. What I love about La Mesa is the incredible amount of bird sounds. I also love downtown and my new favorite cafe, the Pink Rose Cafe.

Question: What are his favorite pieces?

A: Well, it’s hard to choose because I like the narration of the series of photographs of her self-portrait in Guadalupe. I love how absolutely she is herself in all the work – she’s a runner, a Latina raised in Barrio Logan. I like the marks, the quality of the drawing of the large charcoal drawings of women, drawn larger than life and dominating the viewer. I appreciate her diversity in her work with many media, from painting and drawing to collage and photography. Overall, however, I like the message through his work.

Question: How important is the celebration of Dia de los Muertos to you personally?

A: In 2004, I lived in Guanajuato, Mexico for a year. At the time, I was mourning the death of my first love, Brian, who died tragically in a canoe accident. I attended the celebrations and acquired a new love for the holidays because it is a way to reconnect with your loved one. I found the process cathartic and started building an altar every year for Brian.

Question: How do you and / or your family generally celebrate this holiday?

A: I love to dress up and visit all the beautiful altars and celebrations in the city. There are incredible altars rising in Chicano Park, the Sherman Heights Community Center, and many other places. Creating the altar has always been a solo act for me, a ritual of gathering and placing objects and finding the photos of the person, listening to music and adding all the little details to make it happen. ofrenda. I have always been drawn to the bright colors of Mexican textiles and decorative picado papers and paper flowers, which have influenced much of my work.

Question: What do you hope people see / understand when they visit your ofrenda at the botanical garden on Saturday?

A: I hope people learn more about Yolanda, if they didn’t know her already, and I hope they get some inspiration to make an altar at home or learn more about the holidays. Or, maybe they’ll be inspired to make pom poms and papier mache, or gain a new appreciation for the work.

Question: What was difficult about your job?

A: I would say it’s just being an artist, it’s more difficult when you’re a woman or a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color) person. Chicano art has long been ignored by the mainstream art world and it is only recently, and because of women like Yolanda, that the art world is opening up to other narratives and perspectives.

Question: What has been rewarding about this job?

A: I feel so fulfilled when people help with the project and then see the end result and feel like they are a part of this work of art. I can’t tell you how many people say they needed this in their life, needed DIY time, especially adults!

Question: What did this job teach you about yourself?

A: It taught me that I don’t have to do everything myself, and that I shouldn’t even try to do it. That trying to do everything on my own limits me. I’m a little lonely and painting is one of those things you do most of the time alone, but these larger installations are about community engagement, they aim to inspire people to add beauty to the world. world, to engage in art and to connect.

Question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Small victories. You don’t become a famous artist, you have little victory over a small victory and it is a long game.

Question: What’s the one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I traveled the world during Semester at Sea when I was 18. It inspired me to live in Africa and work in a refugee camp, where I did a yarn project, knitting group, art class and mural project in the refugee camp of Dukwi in Botswana. I have also been to 22 countries.

Question: Describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.

A: I love it when there are big art openings around town to see, and fun festivities at Chicano Park. I love to take my dog ​​to the Coronado Dog Park, maybe try a new restaurant and visit friends and family.


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