Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Honoring the Dead: Image and Sign

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Honoring the Dead: Image and Sign

Article excerpt

THE Anheuser-Busch Gallery at COCA is abloom with strange flowers, portents and signs. To walk among this art is to brush against religious beliefs of other cultures and subcultures. "Object & Memory," curated by Alan Suits of Coyote's Paw Gallery, focuses on the spiritual uses of folk art, especially as remembrances of dead relatives and friends.

"The Dios de los Muertos Ofrenda" by Missouri's Rene David Michel-Trapanga and Cherie Fister-Trapanga, the most impressive piece in the exhibition, is a triptych used as an altar to honor the dead in Mexico.

It happily combines aspects of Roman Catholic and pre-Columbian religions of the Americas. While the holiday of All Saints is celebrated in the Christian calendar, the cut-out images alongside the triptych represent such Aztec gods as hunting and agriculture.

Although the votive candles would be comfortable in any church, spreading piles of food to nourish the dead is an ancient, indigenous custom. The Trapangas have arranged the candy, beans, rice, chiles and bread so beautifully that no one would ever want to eat them and spoil the composition.

The lovely, silvery altar painting represents eyes as a bird, a heart with a knife through it, cactus, birds, butterflies and a tree covered with charms. It reads, in Spanish, "My soul in my hands, I come to greet you."

Interestingly, Dara and Sing Phannarath and the St. Louis Lao community have created two pieces integral to Laotian Buddhist worship that parallel the Mexican offerings. "The Money Tree" is a tree honoring the recent dead hung with gifts that the dead person enjoyed in life, such as combs, toothbrushes and candy as well as money. "The Phakwan" is a gaudy feast arranged to feed the soul.

Zigmas Grybinas of O'Fallon, Ill., carves tiny, exquisite towers like those found in his native Lithuania. …

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