This just in: memorial altar at Burns + Virgil, at the border of the East Hollywood and Silverlake, sent from Nate Rulf. The memorial is most likely honoring Leonardo Gabriel Ramirez, a 17 year old Latino kid shot on May 23rd, six days ago, for unknown reasons. Along with flowers and candles, the altar has a wooden crucifix, blue bandanas, Modelo cans, and a lone hundred-length cigarette. The sign has green wire shaped to spell "Roller", and what is legible to me says "I love you homie / Rest in paradise / Roller x [name]".
Driving home along Santa Monica Blvd, I saw this memorial altar to Danny Mora near the corner of Santa Monica and Normandie. This is right near an apartment I used to live in, and it was refreshing to walk a little bit in the old neighborhood.
Last night was the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever. The theme this year was "The Magical World of The Alebrijes." Alebrijes are fantastical animals and their respective representations. These creatures originated with Pedro Linares in the 1930s, who dreamed them while ill and then created his visions with cardboard and paper mache, and are now considered a traditional folk art of Oaxaca.
I wasn't able to spend as much time wandering through the altars as previous years, and I missed veteran artist and altarista Jennifer Gutierrez Morgan, whose altars combine elements of traditional domestic altars and contemporary art. Nonetheless, the cemetery was bustling with life and death (as always) and there was an incredible range of altars. My highlights are here for looking, including:
- Saran wrap mannequins in beautiful masks from BLING Out Your Dead.
- Altar 31 Para Los Ninos featuring skull bean mosaics.
- A "cabinet of curiosities" style altar monument, with a back niche with a typewriter and note reading "Dear Dad, We miss you..."
- An interactive altar where participants throw a small bag of beans onto large Loteria cards, and then write a message on the (huge) corresponding panel. My first toss the beans landed between El Mundo (The World) and La Garza (The Heron), and my second toss landed on El Mundo, so I left a note on El Mundo.
- A Storyteller walk-in altar with printed "greetings" inspired by the altarmaker's grandmother, such as "God Bless You Mija," and, "Mija you look so skinny! Come eat something!" The altarmaker assembled a small group of people and explained that inside her "grandmother's house" was a bookshelf modeled after a traditional Native American storyteller. The bookshelf will be donated to a local school for students to gather around, store their books, and listen to stories.
- An altar to injured or killed cyclists, represented by a human-figure sculpture made of white bicycles.
Nature's Harvest is a little market next door to Cirque School LA at Wilton + Hollywood Blvd. Above their cooler is a little city of tiny handmade storefronts. At the southernmost tip of the town's main drag is an altar/large nicho with La Virgen de Guadalupe.
Defunct pay phone altar (?) in Hollywood.
Rik Martino aka Franco Massimo aka the Birdman of Silverlakeoccupies the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Madison, at the Cahuenga Branch public library. Martino has been posting fliers and handmade advertisements for some time now, becoming a recognizable local character, but his message became more desperate when animal control allegedly took and killed his pet pigeons last year. He kept the birds in a cage on the street where he was sleeping at the time.
Martino’s public interventions are frequent and, by now, common. But this particular installation was peculiarly altar-like in form, with fake roses, prayers, and a balloon, arranged around a central platform made of cardboard boxes and plywood. Martino’s signs proclaim his call for Animal Control to be brought to justice, and condemns the PATH program for not adequately helping the homeless.
Jennifer Gutierrez Morgan is a veteran altarista with a distinctive aesthetic that incorporates her Project Milagro work and photography with natural elements: wood, marigolds, pomegranates, limes, artichokes, and more…Jennifer was gracious enough to allow me to film her process as she constructed her altar, so please check back for a short video that lets us get closer to Jennifer’s altar and art.
Hollywood Forever Dia de los Muertos. Includes: Corporate Sponsored Altar (I named it that) - an advertisement by Nescafe and Abuelita chocolate. “Vive Cultura con Nescafe y Abuelita” I saw at least one other altar created by a business, but it was a family-run market. Nescafe had folks handing out samples at the festival as well. Popsicle stick altar - people were invited to write down the name of someone they’ve lost on a popsicle stick. Darwin altar. Temple altar. More interpretive altars - Saran Wrap people, a calavera emerging from the ground.
Lest you think I didn’t, I did attend this year’s Dia de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever. To prove it to you, belatedly, here are some of my favorite altars from the event.
El Patillo Restaurant, Santa Monica and Western.