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Institute Of Texan Cultures Exhibit Helps Legacies Live On

An exhibition at the Institute of Texan Cultures honors those who have passed on. It's created by Artist David Zamora Casas, who definitely cuts a striking figure. When we met he was stylishly dressed, with a Salvador Dali-style mustache and wearing purple lipstick. His passion for detail shows also in his Time Before Memory exhibit.

"The installation I've created comes from my Rasquachismo aesthetic."

Rasquachismo is the cultural sensibility of the poor and excluded. Put another way:

"The perspective of the underdog."

The exhibit stretches throughout the first floor and is divided into three large parts.

"The formal, grand altares of Mexico. The home domestic altar, and the cemetery altars."

These altars--altares, or ofrendas--are erected to remember the important people in our lives, a tradition seen most notably in Dia De Los Muertos.

"Dia De Los Muertos is two days in particular. November first is the day set aside to honor the deceased infants and children. November second is for everyone else--the adults."

Dia De Los Muertos altares vary from region to region, and while Marigolds are the most common flower to see, Casas puts on his own spin.

"I've incorporated bluebonnets because it's Texas, and this is a Texas inspired installation."

Just as Mexican culture reflects both indigenous spirituality mixed with Christianity, so do Casas' altares.

"I've taken the liberty to create a hybrid pantheon of saints. Yes, it does include the Aztec Goddess Chalchiuhtlicue. It also includes San Antonio and Jesus and Virgen De Guadalupe."

The displays are 15 and 20 feet long apiece, full of pictures of people taken in their prime, in a fun pose or in their favorite outfits. Just as visitors stare at them, they seem almost to stare back.

"As long as we say their name, as long as we keep them in our hearts, as long as we celebrate their life, their essence is alive. Energy does not die. Energy continues. It becomes the stars, it becomes the moon, it becomes a photograph on an altar."

You can see Time Before Memory 'til November 5th. 

Find more on Time Before Memory here

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii