TO JANUARY 18 The manner by which a culture acknowledges death speaks volumes about how it views living. In Mexico, an annual fiesta honours ancestors and the recently deceased, and affirms the values of life and family. The centuries-old holiday, known as the Days of the Dead, is the inspiration for Harvest of Memories, a captivating exhibition on display at the Gardiner Museum.
Here, the legacies of the dead are celebrated through a diversity of artful creations that strike a balance between vibrant satire and solemn piety. Colourful ceramic, papier-mâché and wood skeletons offer immediately striking visuals by portraying death as the great equalizer—as certain for the rich and powerful as it is for the poor and weak. Similarly hard to miss is the enormous altar, or ofrenda, that towers over the gallery space. The symbol-laden monument represents the soul’s transition from earthly existence to the after life, and was made specifically for the show by craftsmen from Huaquechula, Mexico.
As implied by the exhibition’s title, the Days of the Dead are also inextricably linked to the autumn harvest. A photo essay by Toronto’s Vincenzo Pietropaolo examines this connection by documenting migrant farm workers as they journey from Ontario to their Mexican homeland for the festival—an annual pilgrimage that pays tribute not only to the memory of the dead, but also the bonds of family and the lessons to be reaped from another year of life.MORE TO SEE On January 19, the Gardiner opens Récupération, a thought-provoking showcase of recent works by award-winning ceramicist Léopold L. Foulem, whose playful pieces combine imagery from both high art and popular culture. As of February 19, the museum’s world-renowned collection of decorated ceramics—from 16th-century maiolica to contemporary pieces in porcelain—is examined in Clay Canvases: the Fine Art of Painted Ceramics from the Renaissance to Today.—Craig Moy