La Ofrenda: Beauty Made Visible

An altar installation at 1135 S. 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA, by César Viveros with inspiration and input from members of South Philadelphia’s Mexican community.

Across diverse communities and throughout the world, altars have been spaces for veneration and introspection. They are structures that assist individuals and communities during moments of celebration as well as during times of need or despair. The Philadelphia Folklore Project’s La Ofrenda initiative captures stories of hope, resilience, faith, fear, and strength that are pillars of home altar-making practices within Mexican immigrant communities in our city. Renowned artist César Viveros has collected the stories behind the altars of local community members as a way to preserve and celebrate a sense of belonging. These stories, and the aesthetics of these home altars, serve as inspiration for Viveros as he creates a large-scale altar in the 9th Street commercial corridor in South Philadelphia. This exhibition/installation explores one aspect of Mexican immigrants’ cultural life and celebrates the memory of Ana Guissell Palma, Viveros’ late partner, award-winning artist and former collaborator on this project.

Project Schedule

  • Saturday, September 7, 2019: Opening celebration from 3:00-6:00 pm
  • Thursdays, September 12, 19, and 26, 2019: Open houses from 5:00-7:00 pm
  • Saturday, September 28, 2019: Presentation by visiting national award-winning altaristas from California, Ofelia and Rosanna Esparza at 5:00-7:00 pm
  • César Viveros will also be at the site, with doors open, much of the month, so people can walk in.

 

Personnel

César Viveros - Artistic Director and Principal Artist

César Viveros Herrera has spent over 15 years creating public art in the United States and his native Mexico, and has collaborated with Mural Arts in Philadelphia since 1997. Well known as a muralist, César also performs Aztec dances and ceremonies, and creates miniature altars, sculptures, fresco paintings, mosaics and feather work. In 2020, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts recognized him as a master artist in cartoneria, a craft that employs paper (from newspapers, cardboard, etc.) and engrudo (a glue made of cornstarch) to create elaborate and intricate sculptures called alebrijes which are well known brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantasy creatures. This is a skill he learned from his late wife, Ana Guissel Palma, who was known as “the papel maché queen” in Philadelphia.

Ana Guissel Palma - Co-Artistic Director and Co-Principal Artist

Ana Guissel Palma passed away in September, 2018.

Originally from Veracruz, Mexico, Ana Guissel Palma had been based in Philadelphia since 1999. Trained as a muralist, she pushed the boundaries of papier-maché for more than 15 years through her cultural context. From large-scale works to the development of parades, Ana created intricate pieces and ornaments that were used in various Aztec dances and ceremonies, in which Ana often took part. Her creations depicted popular imagery surrounding the traditions of Meso-American cultures, but her work also integrated her own ideas that dealt with the blessings and challenges of daily life. Being based in Philadelphia also afforded her the opportunity to work on addressing local immigration policy and reform, as well as spiritual practices.

Ivonne García Pinto - Community Advisor

Ivonne Pinto García is an artist and community organizer from San Martín Texmelucan de Labastida, in Puebla, Mexico. In 2005, Ivonne migrated to Philadelphia where she involved herself in the local cultural scene, assisting other artists and promoting Mexican culture. Among her talents, she is skilled in the practice of cartoneria (papier-mache) to create piñatas for birthdays, arreglitos for spectacular quinceañeras, altarcitos as offerings, and the brightly colored and mythical alebrijes for Day of the Dead celebrations. She is also well-known for leading workshops in the creation of sugar skulls, which she has done for Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and Cesar Andreu Iglesias Gardens.

José Ortiz-Pagán - Project Manager and Artist

José Ortiz-Pagán is a visual artist and cultural administrator that has been working in the development of several community based art projects and visual art practices that focuses on conversations around the inclusion of local communities and how to negotiate a diverse notion of cultural manifestations. For the last couple of years, José has been active working with several institutions in the creation of safe places for people to develop their own cultural practices. An example of this has been the development of the annual Día de los Muertos celebration in collaboration with the Calaca Flaca Committee at the Fleisher Art Memorial and several other locations around Southeast Philadelphia. As well Ortiz-Pagán has been a key developer of the PEW Center for the Arts funded initiative Bring Your Own Project (BYOP).

Leticia Roa Nixon - Community Advisor and Translator

Leticia Roa Nixon was born and raised in Mexico City. She has a B.S. in Communication from Universidad Iberoamericana. After moving to Philadelphia in 1985, Leticia served 28 years as an Official Court Interpreter for the Court of Common Pleas. At the same time, she has been a news reporter for local Hispanic newspapers and presently for Atrévete, a bilingual TV program produced at PhillyCam. In 1999, she co-founded Casa Monarca, a community center dedicated to preserve Mexican art and culture in South Philadelphia. Leticia has self-published Aquí Estamos/Here We Are, a bilingual book documenting oral stories of Mexican immigrants residing in South Philadelphia. Leticia Roa Nixon participated in a series of folklore documentation workshops in 2010 at Philadelphia Folklore Project. Her final work was the documentation of Carnaval de Puebla en Philadelphia.

 

Ofelia Esparza - Guest Artist

Ofelia Esparza was born in 1932 in East Los Angeles, where she has lived her whole life. Mexican traditions such as altar making were shared within Esparza’s own family, specifically by her mother and great-grandmother, and she in turn passed them along to her own nine children, who continue to develop their own talents within the custom of altar making. In 1979, Esparza created one of the first large-scale public altars in the U.S. at Los Angeles’s Self Help Graphics. She has also created a large body of work in printmaking and visual arts, informing her altar-making process, from designing and painting the structure that supports the assembled items to making paper flowers and other adornments. Esparza’s altars—which range from personal ofrendas, or offerings, to assemblages that address larger issues facing the Chicano community—have been exhibited widely, including at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Japanese American National Museum, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and internationally at the first Day of the Dead exhibit in Glasgow, Scotland. In 2018, she installed a monumental permanent altar in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. She has received many recognitions, including the Art Legend Award from Watts 3rd World Art Festival, Pueblo de Los Angeles People’s Choice Awards, and grants from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts and the California Arts Council. Recently she worked as a cultural consultant on the film Coco.

By Amy Kitchener and Russell Rodríguez, Alliance for California Traditional Arts