October 19, 2022

USU Hispanic Studies Professor Brings Unique Perspective to Dia de los Muertos
USU studentUSU Professor of Hispanic Studies JP Spicer-Escalante installs his artwork, now on view during the West Valley Arts' Day of the Dead events taking place Oct. 17 through Nov. 3, 2022.

USU Professor of Hispanic Studies JP Spicer-Escalante installs his artwork, now on view during the West Valley Arts' Day of the Dead events taking place Oct. 17 through Nov. 3, 2022. (Photo Credit: Michael Christensen)

By Andrea DeHaan, CHaSS Communications Editor

Following a project to document Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, Utah State University Professor of Hispanic Studies J.P. Spicer-Escalante is sharing his experiences in a photography exhibit now on view in West Valley City.

Spicer-Escalante’s “In Search of México: Tradition, Globalization, and the Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca” features portraits taken during Oaxaca de Juarez’s 2021 festivities. The exhibit is currently on display in conjunction with the annual West Valley Arts Day of the Dead celebration, which features multiple art installations and culminates in a daylong celebration that includes community altars, traditional dress, and performances alongside food and activities for all ages.

“My photography is the product of my encounters with the broader world around me, especially its peoples and their traditions,” Spicer-Escalante says. “I want my images to tell the stories of their lives and cultural practices, as well as show the natural and material world in which they live.”

The exhibit, which Spicer-Escalante calls a “visual ‘love letter’ to the Mexican people,” features 25 color portraits highlighting the traditional clothing, painted faces, skulls (calaveras), and marigold flowers (cempasúchil) associated with Mexico’s annual celebration — one that continues to evolve as neighboring traditions like Halloween grow in popularity. By framing the juxtaposition between traditional and contemporary influences, the portraits aim to show how the U.S. tradition is making inroads into Mexico’s Day of the Dead rites.

“On an intellectual plane, it is my own quest as a lifelong Latin Americanist to understand Mexico’s age-old customs and rituals,” Spicer-Escalante says. “On an aesthetic plane, it is a photographic expression that seeks to capture the Día de los Muertos as an evolving tradition due to its intersection with the contemporary forces of globalization.”

While the portraits on view may be static photographs, Spicer-Escalante hopes viewers will see them more broadly as reflections of a tradition in flux. “The images attest to both the preservation of long-established cultural rituals and a globalizing presence which presages the future of not only Oaxaca and Mexico, but of our world as a whole.”

Spicer-Escalante teaches Latin American literature and cinema for the Department of World Languages and Cultures in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. His photographic work has been exhibited at the USU Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art and in other galleries and cultural centers in Utah as well as nationally and internationally.

“In Search of México” is on view in the Utah Cultural Celebration Center Crescent Gallery through Nov. 3, 2022. Exhibit entry outside of the festival is free. For more information or to purchase tickets to the West Valley Arts 2022 Day of the Dead celebration, please visit the West Valley Arts website.

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