‘Day of the Dead’ brought to life at NOIR Art Festival exhibition

Dulce Tapp has been displaying her art at the NOIR Art Festival for four years. Photo credit: Kate Playfair

Dulce Tapp left Mexico and came to Canada in 1992 and stayed to marry the man she fell in love with. Studying architecture at the time, Tapp attended a conference and discovered the country she would soon call home.

Thirty-two years later, Tapp celebrates her heritage through art. She has been painting for 13 years and has focused specifically on Catrina collages — a series of colourful paintings depicting a popular costume in Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico — for the last five years.

“I took a few courses, and I was passionate for collages so that’s what I do,” said Tapp.

Tapp visited Algonquin College in November 2022 with the Mexican Embassy for the first Day of the Dead celebration at the Ottawa campus. Tapp decorated and curated the alter for that event.

Now, Tapp’s colourful array of collaged Catrina pieces are on full display along with the work of 55 other professional artists on the second day of the NOIR Art Festival. The festival is a four-day event and this year’s theme was Day of the Dead, featuring many unique activities each day, allowing artists to showcase their creations.

“Day of the Dead is a Mexican festival that we have every year to commemorate the people that have passed away,” said Tapp. “It is a tradition that comes back when we have the Indigenous people living in Mexico.”

The NOIR Art Festival opened with a gala and a fundraiser for the Queensway Carleton Hospital, followed by three days of fine art exhibitions from over 50 diverse artists. The Day of the Dead exhibition was curated in collaboration with the Mexican Embassy and Ottawa’s ByWard Market Day of the Dead Festival. This event ran from Nov. 2-5 at the Horticulture Building in Lansdowne Park.

The building was decorated with orange paper flowers, sugar skulls and NOIR banners. An altar decorated with candles, food, flowers and pictures was set up to showcase altars often found in Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico.

“It’s a good representation in a way of honouring those who have passed and doing it in a very culturally sensitive way,” said Christie Baker, one of the artists at the festival.

The building was packed with displays of hundreds of art pieces, from paintings to pottery mugs. Each display showcased the artists’ unique work, truly representing how different each artist is.

Clara Kim, standing proud next to her paintings of colourful animals, finds inspiration in “everything” and seeks to “break expectations” through her art.

Clara Kim takes information from
Clara Kim takes information from “everywhere”. From Mythology and folktales to close friends, Kim uses her work to “break expectations.” Photo credit: Kate Playfair

“It comes from everywhere. Mythology, folktale, a story, or from a documentary,” said Kim. “My bear (painting) comes from my friend. She had three kids, gave birth to three kids, and she was really depressed and she started hating herself. I want to tell all the moms that they are special and no matter how you look, your kids think you’re special, and you’re the one who forgets you are special.”

Baker finds tranquility in painting beautiful multi-framed portraits of landscapes. She found her love for painting during COVID-19 and draws inspiration from the Canadian landscape.

Christie Baker paints from memory of the beautiful Canadian landscape.
Christie Baker paints from memory of the beautiful Canadian landscape. Photo credit: Kate Playfair

“One of the things I’m very fascinated by is light. When I paint it’s the thing I focus on the most, a painting isn’t really finished for me until I see how the light has been captured,” said Baker. “I think the Canadian landscape is just in my mind and it’s so beautiful. I don’t paint from images I just paint from inspiration, it’s all in my head. It’s memories and it’s light and it’s Canada.”

Cor Beattie, one of the organizers and an alumni from the advertising and marketing communications management program, paints commissioned portraits of celebrities and sells a smaller print of the original project to make some extra money.

Cor Beattie paints commissioned portraits and sells a
Cor Beattie paints commissioned portraits and sells a smaller print of the original portrait to generate more income. Photo credit: Kate Playfair

“I like being creative, it puts my mind at ease and gives me something to do,” said Beattie. “But I’m close to retirement — I work for the government — so this supplements my income.”

Tapp draws her inspiration from her heritage, but sometimes an artist’s inspiration follows its own course.

“My inspiration for these past years has been the Catrina, the Day of the Dead,” said Tapp. “But sometimes it’s just funny things, like I put the head of a fox or a dog on a person just to have a little bit of fun in my life, not to take it serious.”

“Writing a story and putting stuff on a canvas is the same,” said Kim. “It’s up to you how you express yourself.”

Tapp also offered a hands-on collage workshop where participants could create their own work inspired by the “Mictlán Journey,” an Aztec mythology that shaped the Mexican Day of the Dead traditions.

“The native people didn’t see dead as if you were gone,” said Tapp. “To die is to start life.”

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