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

Artist Lecture

Sunday, Nov. 13 at 1:30 p.m., Des Moines Art Center

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

On Sunday, Oct. 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 be focused around luchadores.

Multimedia artist Miriam Alarcón Avila has created work on luchadores for several years, including her Little Luchadores project and 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 is putting your whole heart and soul to achieve and overcome an obstacle,” Alarcón Avila explains. “When you translate lucha, it’s like a struggle. And that represents a tiny part of it, but a lucha is bigger than a struggle; it’s an entire journey, going through the process of putting in all you can and succeeding. So 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 portraiture and handmade masks to tell the stories of Latinx people who have immigrated to Iowa. She interviews them and then creates custom luchador masks inspired by their stories. The outcome is colorful portraiture, prose, and recorded interviews of the luchadores who live, work, and play in Iowa. The anonymity of the lucha masks empower Alarcón Avila’s luchadores to tell the stories of their immigration to Iowa or the mistreatment they’ve received upon arriving here. Many of these interviews have been recorded or turned into poetry and prose with the help of Andrea Wilson from the Iowa Writer’s House.

Alarcón Avila’s Little Luchadores are similar, but this project features portraiture of kids who have 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 the kids. The little Latino kids, they usually go through places where they cannot see their faces and they don’t feel represented,” Alarcón Avila explains. “And I see my kids in their faces. You know, the brown faces, the noses, the smiles, the skin colors. I know they’re different kids, it’s just, we are these phenotypical characteristics. The same characteristics they have been stereotyped and tortured by discrimination are the same beautiful features that we carry on in our genetics. So I think being proud of that is important.”

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

Starting on Oct. 28 through Jan. 15, patrons will be able to view Alarcón Avila’s masks, portraits and video interview series in the lower level of the Art Center as a part of the Iowa Artists 2022 Series.

Alongside Alarcón Avila’s exhibition, she has also been commissioned to build the ofrenda for the Art Center’s Día de los Muertos celebration. Building an ofrenda has been 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 her exhibit like a memory wall, where little luchadores can write memories for their loved ones.

“In the end, we celebrate the dead because it’s part of the life. It’s just the circle,” Alarcón Avila said. “Celebrating Day of the Dead is celebrating life. And be thankful because we’re still here and we’re still able to celebrate it.”

You can see Alarcón Avila’s exhibit at the Des Moines Art Center Oct. 28 through Jan. 15. Learn more about the exhibition at Alarcón Avila’s artist lecture on Sunday, November 13. Celebrate Día de los Muertos at the Art Center on October 30 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The ofrenda will be able to be viewed at the Art Center through November 14.

This article has been edited to add the name of the writer from the Iowa Writer’s House

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