There’s a small gap in the center of a green border painted on the floor that circles the eye-filling ofrenda in the back room of Cultivate 7twelve.
It’s scarcely noticeable because it’s meant for other eyes. The gap serves as an entrance for spirits drawn by the sights and smells contained within the line — dishes of food, odorous marigolds, fragrant candles, photos of dead loved ones, sparkling sugar skulls.
The living, however, need no guidance to the offering — an altar-like arrangement of traditional offerings and memorials that’s a part of Day of the Dead observances — other than proceeding through the gallery and following the brightly colored cut-paper, papel picado in Spanish, illustrations hanging in the ofrenda’s room and on its walls.
The creation of Waco textile artist Rocio Ramirez de Landoll, with assistance from Diane Torres, is art with a purpose: a touchstone of Mexican culture that brings families and friends together to remember the dead and celebrate life.
Ramirez has created ofrendas for Art Forum of Waco and St. Francis Catholic Church in past years. The room-filling one in Cultivate 7twelve falls between the two in scale and took several days and an extended shopping trip to Mexico, she said.
Ofrendas, usually assembled by families, help in observing Dia de los Muertos on Nov. 1 and All Saints Day on Nov. 2, but their roots extend to harvest celebrations by the Aztecs and others preceding the Spanish Conquest, Ramirez said.
Over time, the fusion of celebrations of harvest and one’s ancestors encompassed other dualities: enjoyment of life while remembering the dead, the sadness of death and a sly humor in its presence.
The Cultivate 7twelve ofrenda features many elements of a traditional ofrenda: Plates of dried corn, beans, peppers and fruit; pan de muerto, a sweet roll; small dishes of salt, amaranth grain and incense; strong-smelling marigolds, many circled by lines of dried marigold petals; dozens of white candles; and photos and memorabilia of the honored dead.
A photo of Ramirez’s grandparents stands on the ofrenda table along with photos of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; American artist Rodolfo Razo, a personal friend of Art Forum of Waco founder and artist Jesus Rivera; the parents of her husband Al Landoll; and members of Torres’ family, with room for later contributions.
To the left, a skeleton dressed in Razo’s clothing sits before a sketch on an easel, balanced on the right by a skeleton serenading his bony love at a window and a skeletal dog responding to its master.
Dozens of brightly colored papel picado scenes of life populated by skeletons, called calacas or eskilitos in Spanish, that Ramirez purchased in Mexico hang overhead and across from the main ofrenda. There’s also room for some fun: a mock casket whose skeleton inhabitant sits up at the pull of a string, and two oversize, wearable skulls hanging from the ceiling as props for selfies.
“We give thanks to our ancestors that we are here,” Ramirezs said. “I feel very blessed for all the people who helped.”
The exhibit formally opens 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday with La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant selling tacos and other food to visitors. Cultivate 7twelve will have extended hours of 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday with regular hours of 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.