To celebrate this year’s El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), 21c Museum has commissioned the site-specific exhibition Going Homeby Mary Carothers’ students in University of Louisville’s 2-D Design Class. The installation consists of 10,000 hand-cut monarch butterfly designs and 14 casts of hands exhibited on the facade of 21c on 7th street. The work is inspired by the 14 Mexican immigrants who died tragically crossing the Arizona desert. The loss of these men, including fathers and sons, marks the single largest tragedy of Mexican immigrants into the United States.
The motivation for this piece comes from the student’s reading of The Devil’s Highway by Luis Albero Urrea featured as University of Louisville’s “Book in Common.” The Yuma 14, as they came to be known, who perished as well as the 12 survivors were lost in the desert, hallucinating and desperate for water, Urrea writes, “They were beyond rational thought. Visions of home fluttered through their minds. Soft green bushes, waterfalls, children, music. Butterflies the size of your hand …”
The 10,000 paper monarch butterflies serve as a poetic metaphor for migration, noting that these delicate creatures are currently making their journey, up to 3,000 miles, from North America to Mexico. Their significance lies not only in the beauty of the individual but also within their massive quantity that transforms their mass into a topographical landscape.
The artists recognize that the loss of life that continues to increase not only every year between the border of North America and Mexico, but as thousands of people seek refuge from one country into another around the world. The hand castings have been made from immigrants now living in the United States who have come to this land from around the world.
In addition, traditional marigold flowers scattered in front of the altar symbolize the path between the dead and the living. This installation asks the viewer to reflect and contemplate the perilous journey of these men and to recognize the plight of all those attempting migration.
About El Día de los Muertos
Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a joyous holiday, that blends native Aztec and Roman Catholic traditions and beliefs to celebrate and honor the lives of deceased friends and family members. In this tradition, death is not seen as the end, but rather a new stage of life. It is now celebrated with cultural variations in areas throughout Latin America and the United States.
This exhibition is presented in conjunction with the Day of the Dead observance taking place on Museum Row organized by the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at the University of Louisville. Other participating institutions include Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft, The Frazier History Museum, Louisville Science Center, and the Muhammad Ali Center.