Loss, History and a Promise for the Mission at SOMArts

Image courtesy of SOMARTS

René Yañez is widely credited with bringing the tradition of dia de los muertos to live in San Francisco, but this year, the Day of the Dead exhibition he curated at SOMArts Cultural Center is both acutely local and nationally relevant.

This year’s compilation of artistic offerings, A Promise Not to Forget, pays tribute to several recently passed local artists. Among them are Yañez’ partner of many years, theater director Cynthia Wallis, as well as musician and healer Silvia Parra and painter Martha Rodriguez. More broadly, the exhibiting artists are also examining other losses in the Mission District – from displaced families to burned buildings to cultural spaces. They will also reflect on the violence at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that claimed 49 lives, many of them Latinx and queer, and violence in the city of Richmond that has ended young lives too soon.

A Promise Not to Forget opens today with music from Manicato, a Puerto Rican funk rock and reggae band as well as comedy and spoken word performances. On Friday, October 21st, curator René Yañez will host an interactive drawing circle from 7 to 9:30 p.m., and a closing night party will be held Saturday, November 5 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Mission Local talked with one of the exhibiting artists, Gustavo Vazquez-Orozco, a filmmaker who is creating several video installations for the exhibit.

Mission Local: What is this promise about, the promise not to forget?

Gustavo Vazquez-Orozco:  It can be from a personal level in terms of dear friends, like Cynthia Wallis and Silvia Parra and Martha Rodriguez, where there’s an intimate personal memory to keep them alive in our hearts. At the same time, in the more political, social community sense, it’s not to forget the displacement, something that has happened in our communities in the past, where the stronger barbaric forces of capital or weapons displaced people.

There’s an analogy between the present time of the Mission being gentrified, and it has happened already during the Gold Rush, where anglo forces came into this part of the country and displaced people that were here before, indigenous communities, the Californios, Chinese communities. A part of everyday lives in the present that we have been taught by indigenous communities in this continent is resistance. It’s a way to resist.

ML: Tell us about your contribution to the exhibit.

GVO: I made a video that will be installed in the entrance, a welcome piece for people who enter the exhibit. In many ways it’s a collaboration conceptually with René Yañez and [his son] Rio. In the video there’s a performance artist, Jadelynn Stahl she sings the song of La Llorona, the weeping woman, an old legend in Mexico.

It’s connected to performances in the empty spaces, the hollow spaces in the Mission where there used to stand buildings with homes and apartments for families, community members. And now those spaces are hollow, they’re gone. So it’s a sense of loss and grief for those people that used to be in our community in the Mission

I’m doing another one too that is about filming different people representing that part of themselves that is part of the spirit world already.

ML: How will you represent that?

GVO: I’m actually in the process of working with that. I think that I want people to close their eyes because when we close our eyes we go inward and not outward, and going to that place where they feel connected with their foremost spiritual abilities of kindness of connection to the Earth, to life, to eternity to all of those values.

One of the reasons why René brought this tradition here, not a religious group or any other group, it was really the arts, is because he felt that it was important to bring spirituality into the community. In many ways it continues with that tradition.

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