Creative souls express themselves in coffin art
‘Beautiful Souls: Queen of Hearts’
Mistress of the Arts Salon, 6118 Roosevelt Road, Oak Park, on Feb. 16
Opening reception 5 p.m. to midnight, Feb. 16
Updated: February 14, 2013 11:36AM
“Death is something I don’t want to be afraid of,” said Delilah Slagado. “I want it to be part of life.”
One way the community artist and mother of a 9-month-old baby does that is by curating her “Queen of Hearts” art show, which is the Valentine-themed edition of her “Beautiful Souls Coffin Show,” an annual Pilsen-based traveling art exhibit that’s conceptually linked to the Mexican Day of the Dead.
The valentine show, a good way to remember loved ones who have passed on, comes to the Mistress of the Arts Salon, 6118 Roosevelt Road in Oak Park on Feb. 16 for a month-long visit.
“Beautiful Souls” is the creation of Salgado, who’s from Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, and her husband, Freddy Mata. Two years ago, while working with children she teaches at Eleve Arte Community City, Salgado came up with the idea of making small cardboard coffins that the kids could use with portable ofrendas (offerings to the spirits of the deceased) they were creating for a Day of the Dead parade.
While she explored the mechanics of small coffin construction with her husband Mata, Salgado realized the result could also be an ideal vehicle for artistic expression — and an art show.
“We know a lot of artists and thought they could come up with something really interesting,” Salgado said.
Mata contacted his friend, Chicago woodworker Tim Dashnaw, to make a lightweight particleboard coffin prototype and “Beautiful Souls” was born.
“It’s almost like a cartoonish coffin,” Mata said of the prototype’s exaggerated, easily recognizable shape.
The couple then contacted artists; mostly tattoo artists and those who work in mixed media, Mata said. They asked them to express themselves using the coffin, roughly adhering to the Day of the Dead tradition of remembering family and friends who have died.
“They have free range. Day of the Dead is a time when we can connect with our loved ones. Some people stick to a more traditional theme, with sugar skulls and painted faces,” Salgado said, whereas others think more broadly and transform the coffins into objects like planters or a light boxes.
“I like seeing what the artists come up with, with different media,” Mata said. “It’s pretty cool. You never know what to expect.”
The first “Beautiful Souls” exhibit included 13 coffins for the 2011 Day of Dead celebration. This year’s show is more than doubled in size, with 30 works. Oak Park is the third stop in its route, which includes artist-friendly cafes, tattoo galleries and other independent businesses.
Elvira Garcia, owner of the Mistress of the Arts Salon, looks forward to hosting the installation.
“I am a big supporter of art and I love entrepreneurs who are getting their stuff out there,” she said. Garcia also appreciates the show’s cultural aspect. “I get to see what other people’s feelings are about the passing of their loved ones. Some people are really dark, and others not at all.”
Garcia hopes an art exhibit will bring newcomers to her location in the far southeast corner of the village.
“Since I opened, I’ve been questioned about what kind of business we are because we look kind of different. I hope this will open some people’s eyes that we’re not some kind of Goth place. We’re really versatile,” she said.
Looking forward, Salgado and Mata are already planning for another “Beautiful Souls” exhibit in time for the 2013 Day of the Dead.
Salgado speaks passionately of the show’s artistic challenge and its ability to convene creative thinkers. “You gain a different appreciation of beauty,” she said. “You are seeing inside an artist, into who they are.”