After 60 Years, Mexico Week Returns to Rockefeller Center
To mark Mexico’s 200th year of independence, Mexico Week has made its way back to Rockefeller Center after nearly 60 years.
Mexico Week: Día de Muertos at Rockefeller Center, which runs from October 22 to November 2, 2021, is a revival of the celebration of Mexican culture that Rockefeller Center originally hosted from 1964 to the mid-1970s. Talks to bring the exhibition back began after Jorge Islas, New York’s Consul General of Mexico, took office; his goal was to “have a unique display of the best of Mexico’s heritage in the heart of Manhattan.”
“Rockefeller Center is offering us a [special] space, a window where the world can see and learn more about the millenary traditions of a country with an immense historical richness,” Islas said.
The event features a series of large-scale activations to commemorate Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that pays respects to relatives and friends who have passed away. “The Day of the Dead is one of the main celebrations that identify us as Mexicans, a celebration in which we remember our loved ones who are no longer with us and commemorate their lives,” Islas explained.
Staying True to Day of the Dead Traditions
The main installation is a traditional ofrenda (display altar). Designed by Tónico Visual, the design studio and creative team behind Mexico City’s renowned Día de Muertos parade, the ofrenda honors the essential workers in New York City who passed away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An ofrenda typically displays a collection of objects or offerings that are significant to the loved one it honors. Tónico Visual — which consists of Gala Sánchez-Renero, Enrique Gosselin, and Sergio Pelaez — worked with traditional Mexican craftsmen who understood the meaning of every object.
“We tried to design the ofrenda only with objects that have relevance to the Day of the Dead tradition — the xoloitzcuintli dog, cempasúchil flower, the candles,” Sánchez-Renero said. “We really hope this ofrenda can be an opportunity for people to learn about the tradition [and enjoy] the beauty of it while doing so.”
The ofrenda is flanked by two alebrijes, bright and colorful sculptures of mythical creatures that took 20 artisans six months to create. The pieces, designed by Oaxacan artist Ricardo Angeles and Atelier Jacobo & Maria Angeles, are called Guardians as a tribute to those who left their homes and places of origin for a better life in the United States.
“These pieces are put with a sense of solidarity in the center of New York, a city founded by migrants. Migrants that today continue to build it and enrich it,” Angeles shared. “That is why I feel that the offering and the Guardians are a way of honoring, of remembering, the memory of all those who left their home and [made] an attempt to reach this country, especially those who died in their work due to the conditions of COVID-19...”
Alebrijes sculptures are meant to guide spirits on their journey to the afterlife. Alebrijes are traditionally a fusion of several different animals, and Angeles and his team chose animals specifically for what they represent in Mexican culture.
The first piece has an eagle head, coyote ears, and iguana body. The eagle symbolizes foresight and the coyote personifies cunning. An iguana can travel by land or water and the eagle by air, “so there are no obstacles or borders these Guardians can’t cross,” according to Angeles.
“We attribute these animals the necessary qualities of strategy and strength that a guardian must have to defend those who have already arrived or are yet to arrive,” Angeles remarked. “[They are] strong and brave animals capable of transporting and defending their tribe. Both of them are females that care for and love their kin.”
Sharing Mexican Culture with the World
Mexico Week activations also include a floral installation for the bronze Atlas statue, a display of catrinas (skeleton figures that have come to symbolize Day of the Dead), and a tianguis, a market featuring vendors that sell food and handcrafted, artisanal goods.
The exhibition is sponsored by Tequila Casa Dragones, INTERprotección, The State of Oaxaca, and Visit Mexico, but Islas also credits the teamwork that happened behind the scenes to make Mexico Week possible.
“We at the Consulate are very pleased to be able to share this partnership with the Tishman Speyer and Rockefeller Center team,” Islas remarked. “Each in their own field has given their best to make Mexico Week a success and [this is] the first step for many years of Mexico Week at Rockefeller Center.”
For Islas, Tónico Visual, and Angeles and his team, the relaunch of Mexico Week is a chance to shed light on their heritage, and they hope people walk away with a greater appreciation of Mexican culture.
“I hope [people] take away a clearer understanding of what this important holiday means [and] that celebrating the dead is a way to have our loved ones always present and is one of the oldest and most alive Mexican traditions,” Islas said. “To the Mexican and Mexican-American community, I hope that when they visit these installations they feel very proud of our roots, and they always remember that Mexico is a great country and we have to share it with the world.”
Mexico Week events are free and open to the public. Find the full event schedule here.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.