Wings of Remembrance

OMCA’s biennial Days of the Dead exhibition, Metamorphosis & Migration, draws thought-provoking connections between departed souls and migrating butterflies

Every year, with its beloved Days of the Dead festivities, OMCA celebrates multicultural traditions that honor one’s ancestors; the Museum also presents a biennial exhibition showcasing artworks on related themes. This fall, the Museum will present one such special exhibition, titled Metamorphosis & Migration: Days of the Dead. Organized by guest curator Evelyn Orantes, the show features a powerful symbol to tell intertwined stories of ritual, remembrance, and transformation: the gorgeous Monarch Butterfly.

As many California residents know from firsthand sightings, Monarch Butterflies travel thousands of miles every year to reach their winter homes in Coastal California and in Mexico. Their journey is both a natural imperative and a poetic image; since it takes up to four generations of butterflies to make the trip, each miraculous homecoming is the work of those who came before.

Throughout Mexico, butterflies are associated with the spirits of the departed, and the Monarchs’ return each fall is cause for joy and reflection. “The butterflies’ migration sparks conversations about rebirth and mortality,” Orantes says, “and these are the themes we are exploring in Metamorphosis & Migration.”

Orantes notes that this exhibition has a special poignancy in this polarizing time, with debates about immigration dominating the headlines. More than ever, she says, it is instructive to remember that migrating species like the Monarchs transcend boundaries, giving beauty and joy to those on both sides of the border. A variety of butterfly specimens will also be on display, connecting the natural and cultural diversity of the Bay Area.

Artistic Visions

Metamorphosis & Migration features original works that explore the show’s themes from a multitude of perspectives. Artist Favianna Rodriguez has created an oversized pair of butterfly wings, a work she calls Migration is Beautiful. Visitors are invited to stand in front of the work and take self-portraits to complete the artwork with their participation, taking a moment to consider “what it is like to be a migrant,” Orantes says.

Additionally, artist and educator Bea Carrillo-Hocker is contributing an ofrenda, a traditional altar honoring the deceased; and Chris Treggiari and Paul Foucault have created an installation that pays tribute to a fellow artist, Alex Ghassan, who died in the tragic Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Oakland-based painter Hung Liu, who had a retrospective at OMCA in 2013, will present an exquisite series of small paintings that depict flickering candles, suggestive of the transitional moment between life and death. Rafael Jesús González created an ofrenda to honor artist friends, Roberto Almanzán and Juan Domingo, and all the artists who died in the process of migration. In the Museum’s Oak Street Plaza, a colorful mural by artist Jet Martinez depicts Monarch Butterflies fluttering onto zempasuchil (marigold) flowers, a primary component to the Day of the Dead celebration. Local students will contribute handmade lanterns designed to carry messages to departed loved ones.

Of course, while Days of the Dead is tinged with mourning, it’s also a festive occasion—as seen in the traditional elements of sugar skulls, dancing skeletons, and colorful decorations. Artist Fernando Escartiz acknowledges this playfulness with a giant papier-mâché skeleton that appears to be in transit, carrying a briefcase with him on the road ahead.

“We wanted to create a platform for people who have a need to express mourning and transitions and journeys,” Orantes says. “The exhibition is both sweet and mournful, a tribute to life and death and the intersections in between.”


Photography: Odell Hussey (Ghost Ship altar); Terry Lorant (Evelyn Orantes headshot).

Metamorphosis & Migration: Days of the Dead is supported in part by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board.

Metamorphosis & Migration

Celebrate Days of the Dead by examining themes of transformation and ritual through the bright lens of the Monarch Butterfly.

Return to Feature