As eager students (attending UCSB or not) gear up for Santa Barbara Halloween by purchasing fake facial hair and dreaming of various ways to sex up even the most ordinary of Halloween costumes, the Muddy Waters’ downtown crowd has taken a different approach to the month of October.
Muddy Waters’ annual Noche de Los Muertos, a collective art show that celebrates Día de Los Muertos with visual pieces, crafts and treats from a variety of artisans, kicked off on Friday, October 14.
Located where glamorous downtown Santa Barbara starts to get kind of dirty and desolate at 508 E. Haley St., Muddy Waters coffee house is a perfect setting for a creepy-awesome art show. Trudging along the dark street past a dimly lit park and an onslaught of closed taquerías, the refuge found in the warm coffee house had a bizarre yet homey charm.
The attendees were more of a bar-crowd of Muddy Waters regulars — whose conversation ranged from the intellectually sublime to the drunkenly ridiculous — as well as the occasional browsers who circulated the crowded venue gazing at the colorful decoration.
Noche de los Muertos showcased pieces by Vanae Rivera, creator of the Mary and the Machine clothing line and a regular featured artist in exhibits in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles areas.
Other art incorporated mixed forms of media, like local Miles Darst’s colorful paintings, as well as other artists’ 3D figurines and altarpieces.
The frenzied feel of the night is fitting for the holiday. Having its origins in pre-Hispanic and Aztec culture, early versions of Día de Los Muertos can be traced back almost 3,000 years.
The holiday is first and foremost aimed at celebrating and honoring dead ancestors by creating altars with their favorite foods, beverages, photos and knick knacks and encouraging the deceased to revisit their living family. It even allots two separate days for specific relatives: November 1 is “Día de Todos Los Santos,” honoring those under 18 and unmarried and November 2 is the official “Día de los Fieles Difuntos,” for departed adults.
Muddy Waters’ emphasis on the artistic aspect of Día de los Muertos is far from new. In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, nearly every city shop will display decorated calacas, or skulls, generally made from cardboard, wire and cotton. Elaborate sugar skulls and woodcarvings also play a large part in the celebration’s deep connections to folk art.
In recent years, Día de los Muertos has gained popularity in the United States. In Southern California, Hollywood’s celebration of the holiday has taken a hip twist; incorporating altars of deceased rock ’n’ roll legends as well as flyers for political protest.
In San Francisco’s Mission District, a string of Día de los Muertos community concerts, processions and art shows manifest themselves in late October.
So, if dressing up like a sexy scientist and watching out-of-towners urinate in public starts to bore you on Oct. 31, consider exploring downtown Santa Barbara’s Día de los Muertos festivities for unique art and a different way of viewing life, death and all the fun stuff in between.