‘Tradiciones’ opens Oct. 10-11 at Rockford Art Museum

Maria Tomasula, “Royalty,” 2008. Collection of Michael McVickar and Brian Westphal. (Photo by Tom Van Ende)
Maria Tomasula, “Royalty,” 2008. Collection of Michael McVickar and Brian Westphal. (Photo by Tom Van Ende)

• Exhibit captures the cultural traditions that celebrate beauty in life and death

Staff Report

Tradiciones — opening Friday and Saturday, Oct. 10-11, at Rockford Art Museum (RAM), 711 N. Main St. — examines thought-provoking cultural traditions that celebrate the beauty in life and death. Featured are paintings, installations and film by a select group of Latino artists, including Javier Chavira, Maria Tomasula, Marcos Raya and Carlos Rolón/Dzine, plus filmmakers Brian Ashby, Emmanuel Camacho and Gabriela Fernandez.

The exhibit opens with a RAM Members’ Preview Friday, Oct. 10, including a Members’ Gallery Walk with the Artists from 5 to 6 p.m. and a Members’ Reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. A free public opening will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 11.

Marcos Raya, “The Girl’s Aunt,” 2014. Courtesy of the artist.
Marcos Raya, “The Girl’s Aunt,” 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Created as the focal point of his Ghost Bike Project, Carlos Rolón/Dzine uses ghost bikes in a site-specific installation to explore universal themes of grief, memory, love and loss. This towering 12-foot sculpture, fabricated in Rockford with more than 100 ghost bikes, serves as a symbolic metaphor — and collective memorial — for the lives of those we have loved and lost. His work is heavily influenced by the duality of his rich Puerto Rican heritage and first-generation immigrant upbringing. For more about Dzine’s public art installation, follow @ghostbikeproject #ghostbikeproject on Instagram.

Javier Chavira draws on traditional Mexican sources of imagery influenced by his Catholic upbringing — the iconic depictions of saints that adorned his childhood home resonate through his powerful portraits of humanitarian and political activists.

Marcos Raya, often called “The Outlaw Artist of 18th Street,” delves into the dark psychological experiences from his upbringing in Mexico and later in “the nightmares of barrio existence.” Gritty, political and deeply personal, Raya creates an on-site installation that reflects the obstacles, loneliness and turmoil of life in the barrio.

Javier Chavira, “Queen of Hearts,” 2005. Courtesy of the artist.
Javier Chavira, “Queen of Hearts,” 2005. Courtesy of the artist.

The stunning paintings of RAM Collection artist Maria Tomasula are reminiscent of 17th-century vanitas. Rich jewel tones, pulpy fruits and gem-encrusted crowns give her paintings a luxurious beauty, while her use of symbolic references captures an undertone of religion that harkens back to her childhood, where she was raised in a working-class immigrant Latino neighborhood in South Chicago.

Also featured is the award-winning documentary Botanicas de la Villita by filmmakers Brian Ashby, Emmanuel Camacho and Gabriela Fernandez. Botanicas (literal translation: “botany stores”) can be found in Hispanic and Caribbean communities in cities across the United States. Most botanicas purvey goods and services, including herbal and folk medicines, religious items and holistic health advice, while a smaller subset offer spiritual procedures such as cleansing or spell-casting. In Chicago, more than a dozen botanicas can be found operating along or near 26th Street from Kedzie to Kostner in Little Village, the heart of the city’s Mexican immigrant community.

Tradiciones remains on view through Feb. 1 at RAM. Organized by RAM and curated by RAM Curator Carrie Johnson, this exhibition and its related educational programming are sponsored by the Dean Alan Olson Foundation and partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency. All education programs are sponsored, in part, by Women’s Art Board.

Tradiciones educational programming

Programs take place at Rockford Art Museum, 711 N. Main St., Rockford, unless otherwise noted. For more, visit rockfordartmuseum.org or call (815) 968-2787.

• Tradiciones Children’s Class: “Feeling Like Frida” — Saturday, Oct. 18, 2-4 p.m., ages 6 and older. Cost is $8, and all supplies are included. To register, call (815) 972-2874. Learn how Frida Kahlo used art to heal and express herself. Paint your own self-portrait and then create a bright, bold Frida-inspired pendant and necklace to wear.

 Tradiciones Teacher Workshop — Wednesday, Oct. 29, 4:30-6:30 p.m., free. After-hours workshop includes a private tour of Tradiciones, hands-on art activity, and take-home packet with materials for classroom use. To register, call (815) 972-2874.

 Cork + Canvas — Thursday, Oct. 30, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (ages 21 and older). Cost is $35 RAM members, $40 non-members. This “sip and paint” class at RAM includes step-by-step instructions, a canvas, paint, paintbrushes and wine. Must be 21 or older to participate. To register, call (815) 972-2874.

 Dia De Los Muertos Festival — Saturday, Nov. 1, 1-4 p.m., all ages. Cost is $6 adults, $4 ages 3-17 or $15 for the entire family. Presented by RAM, Discovery Center, Rockford Dance Company, Burpee Museum of Natural History, and La Voz Latina, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a family celebration, full of rich traditions that honor the cycle of life and death. Festival admission includes half-off admission to participating museums.

 Tradiciones Artist Lecture: Brian Ashby and Emmanuel Camacho — Thursday, Nov. 20, 7 p.m., free. Award-winning filmmakers Brian Ashby and Emmanuel Camacho talk about their documentary short Botanicas de la Villita, featured in Tradiciones. Ashby won Best Documentary at the 2010 Chicago Underground Film Festival and made Roger Ebert’s list of top documentaries that year. Camacho is an instructor at Yollocalli Arts Reach, an initiative of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.

 Tradiciones Artist Lecture: Eric Fuertes — Wednesday, Dec. 10, 7 p.m., free. Sculptor Eric Fuertes shares insights about his role as fabricator of Carlos Rolón/Dzine’s ghost bike sculpture and how its construction crosses over into his own studio practice. A Texas native, he is an adjunct art professor at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

 Tradiciones Children’s Class: Heavy Metals — Saturday, Dec. 13, 2-4 p.m., ages 6 and older. Cost is $8, all supplies included. To register, call (815) 972-2874. Learn the art of Mexican metal tooling and create a piece of your very own.

Rockford Art Museum

Rockford Art Museum (RAM) is a nonprofit organization that has been enriching the quality of life for people of all ages through art collection, exhibition and education programs since 1913. Inside Riverfront Museum Park, 711 N. Main St., in downtown Rockford. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular admission: $7 adults, $3 students/seniors, free for RAM members and children younger than 12. Group rates ($2 per person for groups of 10 or more) available by reservation. Free Day every Tuesday, all day; group rates still apply. For more, log on to rockfordartmuseum.org or call (815) 968-2787.

From the Oct. 8-14, 2014, issue

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