Funny AND Poignant

make-tacosPretty much every year, I visit the Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood.

This year marked the 30th anniversary of a public exhibition being held in Chicago. The theme for this year’s exhibition was Dia de los Muertos: Journey of the Soul.

There’s a longstanding Mexican tradition of honoring deceased loved ones by building and decorating altars that reflect their individual lives. That each altar finds a way to penetrate the hearts of total strangers is a testament to shared experience.

Like art, in general, the more personal a display is, the more universal it feels to someone taking it in.

Far from morbid, in showcasing the deceased’s guitars or family photos, favorite foods, things they made, or pictures of celebrity crushes, it feels like a very authentic way to cherish a life.

Unlike Halloween, which is mostly about candy and originality in costumes, the November 1st holiday is for giving each soul a time for remembrance and respect befitting the human life they lived.

In altars and collections of objects curated very thoughtfully and assembled with great care, I’m always struck by the LOVE that’s present.

It’s easy to think that an individual life does not matter much – not in the grand scheme of things –- then walking through an exhibit such as this reminds me that so much love is created around each person’s life and the connections he makes.

Oh, there were some wonderful displays. There was a great textile of an androgynous looking male Tejano singer who crossed the border illegally and managed to create quite a following in his short life.

I lingered on the offendres (offerings) on display for a Chicago cop who gave his life in the line of duty. Accompanying the memorabilia showing him as a family man were accessories for his uniform, which, he was most certainly proud to wear.

I love the museum itself, comparatively small in a city of museums, but somehow always managing to be fresh and familiar at the same time.

I love the Lady of Guadalupe renderings, the divine feminine having such an important place in the culture, and I’m usually affected by the political or social angle of current murals and installations.

After I finished walking through The Day of the Dead: Journey of the Soul exhibit, I walked around other collections at the museum. I did a double take when I saw a simple neon lighted sign above an archway.

MAKE TACOS NOT WAR.

At first I laughed at the twist on the “Make love not war” theme. Then I thought about the sadness that settled over me after the presidential election results were announced.

Since November 9th, I have been in such a high level of disbelief and anxiety about the Bully in Chief assuming the position of such a great influence in the world — over my life.

I thought about Herr Trump’s vow to build a wall between the US and Mexico. What an absurd idea! We need to be more connected to our hearts, not cut off from a culture that reminds us to feel, to remember our humanity.

Was it possible that such a simple message could be funny and so poignant at the same time?

Perhaps that’s a special power of art, too, that apparent opposites can occupy the same space in your thoughts.

Laughing and crying with the same breath is no small thing.

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