Thousands of visitors swarmed Hemisfair in downtown San Antonio on Saturday night for the return of the light-themed art festival Luminaria.

For many, the evening was a welcome return to semi-normalcy after the popular free event was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Without art — it feeds the soul — I think people are just dying to do things,” said Cheryl Tetter, who has attended three previous Luminaria events since it started in 2008. “And it’s a beautiful night.”

Tetter admired the early evening’s low 60-degree weather after exiting the “Breath of the Serpent,” a tunnel-like, immersive installation by artists Timofey Trofimenkov, Jorge Luis Gamboa, Peyson Jones, and Joseph Rogers. Trofimenkov’s truck and trailer, which contained the work of art, was stolen earlier this week. The trailer was recovered but the truck is still missing.

  • The Breath of the Serpent installation is punctuated with a digital kaleidoscope that shows a variety of images. This installation is designed by Joseph Rogers, Peyson Jones, Timofey Trofimnkov and Jorge Luis Gamboa.

“I thought it was interesting,” Tetter said, after she waited 15 minutes to walk into the serpent’s mouth, through flashing lights and loud music. Each guest peered into a large kaleidoscope before exiting the serpent, which seemed to delight a young girl whose father picked her up off the ground to allow her to see.

The installation was one of 45 artists and groups featured at Luminaria this year.

Down at the San Antonio River Walk level near the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, a crowd grew as people adorned with lighted leaves, wings, faux mohawks and petals started dancing and drumming.

The performance, which also featured an intricate laser show that played on the walls behind and opposite the performers, didn’t articulate a narrative story, said George Cisneros, music and media director of the URBAN-15 performance group.

However, it crescendoed into a sternum-thumping finale that represented a cleansing after more than a year and a half of the artistically stifling coronavirus pandemic, Cisneros said. “It was just like: get rid of everything that was bad. Just blow it away. That was what we were trying to do tonight.”

At the main music stage, Flaco Jimenez joined Los Texmaniacs onstage. Other performances included Bombasta, Heartless the Monster and Pop Pistol.

While the headlining art included light shows, performances and installations, other areas of the festival were set up as more traditional gallery spaces — which also attracted large crowds.

Inside the convention center’s gallery, Symone Martinez looked on as hundreds of people inspected 99 of her pen-and-ink drawings from her “Red Marina” series.

The intricate drawings of women, which often featured lace borders and fish, were created in just three and a half weeks, said Martinez, a self-taught illustrator.

“When I started, I was very interested in the elements, and I think women are very much like water,” she said.

Like water, Martinez said, she and her fellow women have had to experience extreme highs and lows in the last few years. Some of her images encourage thoughts of joy, others despair and loss. Martinez shared that she had an ectopic pregnancy and lost a baby around the time she started the project.

Her work shows “the good times and hard times,” she said, as she breastfed her baby daughter, Mila. “It’s just the experience of being a woman and all the possibilities.”

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of artist Timofey Trofimenkov’s name.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org