The grueling COVID-19 pandemic changed the way Charlotte artist Rosalia Torres Weiner created her annual Dia De Los Muertos altar, or "ofrenda," which will be debuted this weekend in Charlotte. Here, Torres Weiner shows off her work in 2017 at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington D.C. (Photo by Sergio Ochoa courtesy of Torres Weiner) A Different Kind of Dia De Los Muertos
The grueling COVID-19 pandemic changed the way Charlotte artist Rosalia Torres Weiner created her annual Dia De Los Muertos altar, or "ofrenda," which will be debuted this weekend in Charlotte. Here, Torres Weiner shows off her work in 2017 at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington D.C. (Photo by Sergio Ochoa courtesy of Torres Weiner)

An NC artist draws on her Mexican heritage to spread comfort and healing for people who’ve lost loved ones to COVID this Dia De Los Muertos.

For years, Charlotte-based artist Rosalia Torres Weiner’s bright, symbol-heavy altars have graced annual Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Each year the altars, rooted in ancient Mexican tradition, have themes to help people honor their late loved ones.

But this year she saw the need for a different kind of altar, or ofrenda.

“I thought to create a common ofrenda so people could honor their loved ones who, in the past two years, have died of COVID,” she told Cardinal & Pine. 

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The altar will debut as part of a larger celebration on Oct. 28 in Charlotte, featuring live music from “La Reina del Mariachi” Maria Elena Valdez, food, a selfie station and the Red Calaca truck – Torres Weiner’s mobile arts studio – plus her large-scale murals as well. She sees it as a special occasion to bring together the living and the deceased. 

Because of the pandemic, many communities couldn’t properly mourn lost loved ones or publicly celebrate their lives.

“I use my culture, my ancestors, their guidance to help me paint,” said Torres Weiner. “The flowers will attract the souls and the colors and music will attract the community and we’re going to celebrate. It’s been really hard for people to lose loved ones. We need the little somethings that bring us together and art does that.”

People are encouraged to bring a photo or object representing their loved one to lay on the public altar.  

“We need that space to celebrate and be together, despite COVID,” Torres Weiner said. “Bring those people who have lost loved ones and let them know you’re not alone. This mom lost a husband, this person lost a dad, lost a friend.”

A component of Rosalia Torres Weiner’s new “ofrenda,” which was inspired by the families who lost loved ones to the pandemic. The new altar will debut in Charlotte Thursday. (Image via Torres Weiner)

The event is one of several Dia de los Muertos events Torres Weiner is contributing work to this weekend.

Her work will also be on display at the Gaston County Museum’s Dia de los Muertos celebration Saturday, Oct. 30, and part of La Revista Latina’s public ofrenda in Raleigh.

Another component of Torres Weiner’s interactive Dia De Los Muertos “ofrenda.” When it debuts Thursday in Charlotte, the artist is asking folks to bring offerings representing their lost loved ones to lay on the altar. (Image via Torres Weiner)

Torres Weiner hails from Mexico City but has made the U.S. her home. Her vision often explores the intersection between activism and art. Her Papalote (kite) Project focused on children whose families were split up due to immigration policy. She had them create kites with messages to their parents and release them. 

In 2019, she was selected to represent North Carolina in an artists’ exchange by the Mexican Consulate and the Mexican Institute of the Exterior.

“My husband often tells me, ‘I don’t know how you do it, living in another country for so many years and not speaking your language and not eating your food,’ and I tell him, ‘This is what I do with my art. I go to my community, paint, bring my culture and I’m making the city of Charlotte my Mexico.”

The Charlotte event will take place Thursday, Oct. 28 from 4-6 pm at the Four Seasons Plaza, 6323 Albemarle Road in Charlotte, NC. It will follow safety guidelines and protocols, with masks required indoors and social distancing recommended outside.