Architecture student displays ofrenda at DIA

November 21, 2022
An ofrenda is shown with bowls of plastic fruit, a plate of plastic peppers, fake candles and skulls sit on top an yellow, white, black and tan ornamental sheet indoors.

Every year, in preparation for the first of November and the Día de los Muertos celebrations, Hispanic families around the world construct ofrendas, or offerings. They are altars to honor those who have died, as it is believed the dead return to visit their relatives at this time of the year. Ofrendas are placed in prominent spaces in Hispanic homes.

The Detroit Institute of Arts has its own tradition of displaying ofrendas, and one of them included in this year’s display was created by Detroit Mercy Architecture student Arianna Carrera.

One person poses for a photo while indoors.Carrera came to Detroit Mercy for the Architecture program and the small community feeling on campus. She found out about the opportunity to display her ofrenda at the DIA through Ballet Folklorico Mexico Lindo, a nonprofit organization promoting arts and culture through dance. Carrera’s mother is one of the founding members.

“Every year there is an application, and I filled it out and submitted a proposal for a Hispanic ofrenda,” said Carrera. “After it was reviewed, it was accepted, and I was able to build it and bring it to life.”

Carrera chose her elements carefully, designing the ofrenda to represent Pre-Spanish Aztec culture, where the tradition of constructing ofrendas originated.

“Some of the elements are flower petals around the outside, and then we have a centerpiece with an image of the Aztec god of death, made up of rice, corn, lentils and different seeds,” said Carrera. “I chose these seeds because that was what would be readily available and used to make these images traditionally.”

Commonly featured on modern ofrendas are photographs of deceased loved ones and candles and Carrera incorporates many of these elements into her design.

“Beside the seeds and petals there are vegetables and fruits as an offering for the souls of the dead. There are incense and candles to light the way for the souls of the dead, so they can reach the land of the living,” said Carrera.

Ofrendas are not just made for holidays. Throughout Mexico you can commonly find ofrendas outside of churches or community spaces. Carrera has brought her own tradition of ofrenda construction to this project.

“I make ofrendas every year with my family for Dia de los Muertos,” said Carrera. “Families partake in the collaborative effort to make the ofrendas. One of my close family friends helped with making a papier mache Mexican hairless dog for the ofrenda, and my mom and sister helped make the image out of the different seeds.”An ofrenda is shown with bowls of plastic fruit, a plate of plastic peppers, fake candles and skulls sit on top an yellow, white, black and tan ornamental sheet indoors.

Bringing the whole family and community together for an ofrenda construction also dates back to the Aztec traditions.

“Usually in Pre-Hispanic times, making ofrendas was a collaborative effort,” Carrera said. “It took many people to make the elements and place the figures on the ofrenda. Even in different events in Mexico, people come together to make the ofrendas as well.”

Carrera hopes her first entry will not be her last, as she plans to submit another proposal next year.

“As soon as I finished making this one, I was brainstorming ideas for future ofrendas to submit to the DIA,” Carrera said. “I definitely enjoy these collaborative efforts, and displaying these aspects to the community. Definitely something I want to do moving forward.”

Though the ofrenda exhibit has closed, you can see it online at here.

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