Artist Michelle Taylor aka Pinchi Michi poses in front of her wares. Photo by Ricky Rodas for Boyle Heights Beat.

The 13th annual El Velorio, a traditional Eastside Dia de los Muertos celebration, was held Saturday at Plaza de la Raza Cultural Center in Lincoln Heights. A long line of attendees anxiously waited to enter the event that featured live music, an assortment of delicious Mexican cuisine and artist vendors, not to mention car and bike shows. 

Antonio (right) and Isaac (left) Pelayo examine the coffin art which features the likeness of several famous fallen female icons. Photo by Gabriela Cherbony for Boyle Heights Beat.

The Boyle Heights Beat previewed the event before its opening and spoke to its founder Antonio Pelayo and his son Isaac Pelayo, who co-curated this year’s festival.

The pair are San Fernando Valley natives who have spent most of their lives dedicated to capturing the essence of everyday Latino culture in LA through their artwork and community events. Antonio has been an animator for Disney Studios for over 20 years while Isaac’s art pieces have been purchased by well known collectors such as Sean “Diddy” Combs and Shepard Fairey.

Lincoln Heights holds a special place in their family’s heart and the cultural festival celebrating  those who have passed on has been held at Lincoln Park since 2014. “I’ve been coming to Plaza [de la Raza] for over 20 years so it’s like a second home to me,” said Isaac. 

Part of the goal behind El Velorio is to give LA residents a chance to commemorate this special time of the year while also marrying Eastside culture with fine art. “A lot of [stuff] has gotten started here and some of the best [stuff] culturally happens here and I just, you know, so happen to be a part of that,” Antonio said. 

The centerpiece of El Velorio was a fine art exhibit which featured the works of more than 100 artists from and based in Los Angeles County.

This year’s theme “Fallen Female Icons” paid homage to the endless amount of women who have made important contributions to modern society through their artistry, such as Mexican-American pop icon Selena, the queen of salsa Celia Cruz, and world renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Ornamental coffins with a female icon’s likeness on the front, displayed inside a white gallery space, were offered for sale.

Each artist was given free reign to pay homage to their selected icon in the way they saw fit. Isaac, who is trained in classical painting, contributed to the exhibit by creating a hyper-realistic image of Kahlo amidst a graffiti backdrop. “Frida is definitely one of my biggest inspirations,” Isaac said, “so the goal is to get people to look at it [graffiti] the way we do a master painting.”

Isaac spent a considerable amount of time in making little details, such as Kahlo’s wistful stare, come to life. “Her eyes are the most detailed part of the painting and under that is just layers of graffiti which represents the amount of layers we have as human beings. There’s this beauty and defiance that makes us whole as people,” Isaac said.

An image of Jesus Christ with the words “Mala Vida” are emblazoned on a motorcycle. Photo by Ricky Rodas.

Ultimately, The Pelayos alongside the ensemble of artists present at El Velorio embedded within their work the spirit of Dia De Los Muertos: a celebration of the beautiful messiness that is human existence, in this life and the next.

Ricky Rodas is a community reporter for Boyle Heights Beat via the CA Local News Fellowship. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American, grew up in the San Gabriel Valley and attended Cal State LA. He is also a...

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