Miriam Alarcón Avila brings luchadore art, ofrenda to the Des Moines Art Center this Dia de los Muertos

Miriam Alarcón Avila stands next to her Lucha mask at the Des Moines Art Center. —Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

On Sunday, October 30, the Art Center will once again host its Día de los Muertos celebration after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. This year, the celebration will center around the luchadores.

Multimedia artist Miriam Alarcón Avila has created works about luchadores for several years, including her Little Luchadores project and her Immigrant Luchadores project. In Spanish, she says, lucha has a double meaning.

“It’s the lucha mask [used by professional wrestlers] and also the lucha which consists of putting all your heart and soul into reaching and overcoming an obstacle”, explains Alarcón Avila. “When you translate lucha, it’s like a struggle. And that’s a tiny part of it, but a lucha is bigger than a fight; it’s quite a journey, going through the process of putting in all you can and succeeding. That’s why I use them.

Handmade luchador masks by Miriam Alarcón Avila on display at the Des Moines Art Center. —Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

In Alarcón Avila’s Immigrant Luchadores project, she uses handmade portraits and masks to tell the stories of Latinx who immigrated to Iowa. She interviews them and then creates custom luchador masks inspired by their stories. The result is colorful portraits, prose, and taped interviews of the luchadores who live, work, and play in Iowa. The anonymity of the lucha masks allows the luchadores of Alarcón Avila to tell the stories of their immigration to Iowa or the mistreatment they suffered upon arriving here. Many of these talks were recorded or turned into poetry and prose by writers from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Alarcón Avila’s Little Luchadores are similar, but this project features portraits of children who created their own masks. According to Alarcón Avila, representation is the goal of this project.

“When I imagined my work, I was always in love with children. Little Latino children usually go through places where they cannot see their face and they do not feel represented”, explains Alarcón Avila. “And I see my children in their faces. You know, the brown faces, the noses, the smiles, the skin colors. I know they’re different children, it’s just that we are these phenotypic characteristics. The same characteristics as ‘they’ve been stereotyped and tortured by discrimination are the same beautiful characteristics that we carry in our genetics, so I think it’s important to be proud of that.

Video interviews of Miriam Alarcón Avila with Immigrant Luchadores at the Des Moines Art Center. -Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

From October 28 through January 15, patrons will be able to view Alarcón Avila’s masks, portraits, and video interview series on the lower level of the art center as part of the Iowa Artists 2022 Series.

Along with the Alarcón Avila exhibition, she was also commissioned to build the ofrenda for the Art Center’s Día de los Muertos celebration. Building an ofrenda has always been a part of Alarcón Avila’s life and this year she is excited to build one for the community. She is also excited for people to visit her exhibit during the celebration. Throughout the event, there will be activities in his exhibit like a wall of memories, where little luchadores can write memories for their loved ones.

“At the end of the day, we celebrate the dead because it’s part of life. It’s just the circle,” said Alarcón Avila. “Celebrating Day of the Dead is celebrating life. And be grateful because we are still here and we can still celebrate.

You can see Alarcón Avila’s exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center from October 28 to January 15. Learn more about the exhibition at the Alarcón Avila Artist Talk on Sunday, November 13. Celebrate Día de los Muertos at the Art Center on October 30 from 11 to 3 p.m. The ofrenda can be seen at the Art Center until November 14.