Three Days, Two Cultures, One Art Show
Design Studio, Paradigm Shift, and the artist collective from Mexico, Descatrinados, bring “Esqueletos & Escaleras” a Day of the Dead art show, to the heart of El Paso TX’s Downtown Art District.
Day One – Saturday, October 29th
On the corner where North Oregon and Wyoming street meet (a hop and a skip away from a six-lane section of I-10, the southernmost cross-country highway of the U.S.), the doors of the Artspace El Paso Lofts Gallery swung open, right as five blocks away, the St. Patrick Cathedral’s bells tolled, letting everyone downtown know that it was noon, and time to start the first day of:
Esqueletos & Escaleras
Inside the gallery, 40-plus curated art pieces, paintings (small and tall), photographs (black & white and in color), drawings (analog and digital), and mannequins with illustrated clothing, expressed, evoked, and celebrated the themes and iconography of the colorful Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Outside the gallery, vendors lined the sidewalk. Dom’s Vegan fired up its little mobile kitchen and made succulent red tamales with only plant-based ingredients. Howdy Homemade Ice Cream parked a little cart on the shoulders of the gallery doors and handed out free tiny tubs of ice cream samples. Artesanias Rosa Maria populated a table with an assortment of artisanal handicrafts. Pulsar Desert Native Nursery placed a collection of potted desert plants on the concrete like pawn pieces on a chessboard. Woz Art propped up easels with his paintings, while the artist himself sat on a bus stop bench 2 feet away and drew and then painted new original work. Dively Jewelry laid out her handmade jewelry over a black velvet blanket. And finally, VerArtStudio displayed prints of original artwork and painted children’s faces in the style of “La Catrina,” the dapper skeleton lady that is the referential symbol of death in Mexican culture.
The first party to arrive was, naturally, the artists whose work was proudly on display. Painters, photographers, poets, sculptors, and proud members of the artist collective from Juarez, Descatrinados. They brought their family, friends, and friends of friends with them.
At 1 pm, on behalf of the collective, painter Susana Alvarado, and artist Hector Estrada joined our managing partner, Veronna Corral, for an inaugural ribbon cutting.
Then, for the next 8 hours, families, couples, and loners, young and old, poured into the exhibition, like apples rolling out of a tipped barrel. Many of them wandered into the gallery as they passed by on their way to the 5th annual Día de los Muertos parade and festival in El Paso’s Downtown Arts District. Others had seen our online advertisements and made our exhibition a priority stop before checking out the other festivities.
As the attendees admired the work and spoke with the artists, they enjoyed free treats such as sweet candies, hearty hors d’oeuvres, and fruity red wine.
A cameraman for the local TV station KFOX 14 swung by and covered the event. Even though he appeared to be in a rush, he interviewed Veronna and recorded most of the proceedings for a segment on Saturday’s edition of the evening news (a segment they reran on Sunday, during both the afternoon and evening editions of the local news).
At the end of the day, we sold two paintings to two very happy patrons, and we live-streamed a raffle of three gift baskets.
All in all, the Paradigm Shift team agrees, it was a magnificent first day.
Day Two – Monday, October 31st
For our second (quieter) evening, we opened the gallery doors for a Halloween exhibition at 5 pm.
Dressed up as monsters, memes, and other stranger things, children from the downtown area (and its neighboring neighborhoods) wandered into our art show trick-or-treating. Each kid got as much candy as his/her hand could carry. However, the tired-looking parents were the real winners. Each adult that visited the gallery got treated to a complimentary glass of red wine, which, after following their kids up and down the streets, we’re sure that glass was a feet-numbing, mind-soothing treat.
Smiling and grateful for the goodies and hospitality, the kids and their parents wandered around the exhibition admiring the art on the wall. Artwork full of death and skulls, but life also. Life found in the spurts of color of sugar skulls, marigold flowers, and papel picado (colorful paper cut out into byzantine shapes).
We closed shortly after 9 pm.
Day Three – Wednesday, November 2nd
For our third and last evening, we opened the gallery doors for a special Día de los Muertos exhibition at 5 pm.
On this evening, a writer and a photographer from The Prospector, The University of Texas at El Paso’s student newspaper, covered the event (you can read their article here). We sold another painting, to a very excited on the inside, but shy on the outside teenager.
Towards the end of the evening, as the sky started dimming with those beautiful streaks of purply-orangey-pinkish sunset hues the Sun city is known for, members of our families stopped by.
You see, traditionally, on this day, families visit the cemetery to pay their respects to their deceased loved ones. They arrive bearing gifts like flowers and offerings with the deceased’s favorite foods or drinks. It is a very important holiday, one that could be a solemn reminder of just how brief time is, a laugh in the face of death, a celebration of life, a combination of two out of those three, or simply and most likely, a cocktail of those three.
However, this year, because of our ambitious exhibition, most of our relatives made the conscious choice to show up, support us, and celebrate this immortal holiday with our work.
At 9 pm on the dot, we laid this exhibition to rest, to be resurrected again next year.
From everyone on the Paradigm Shift team, thank you to everyone who came.