Words by Davíd Zamora Casas:
All art is sacred because it flows from spirit. Beyond the Holy Spirit, more than that because the Holy Spirit is religious, and I don’t necessarily think of religion when I create my Sacred Rituals, the Rituals of Ceremony, Rituals of Memory, Rituals of What’s Unknown. And the yearning to find a place where I, we, this world fits into a universal view.
There’s an altered state of mind when true creation is happening. I don’t mean a commercial pop art, all action is reaction. My art is a reaction to the desecration of the earth. There’s skulls on the altar that have an anti-nuclear skullcap. I think the sacredness of life, the respect for one another, the respect that everyone is different but we’re all the same works in to the manifestation of the artworks I do, whether it’s installation, painting, ceremonial performance, devotional meditation – the construction of the altar involves all of that. I’m also reacting to the absurdity of how our cultural commercialism is destroying the planet – people are going crazy to suck up all the natural resources without regard to the consequences. It’s happening with oil, it’s happening with resources, it’s happening with water.
The piece (on display in Main Plaza) is called Yanaguana, “the place of clear waters.” Yanaguana was the name of this place before the alleged “discovery” of San Antonio. There were people here in 300 b.c. – the Payayas lived here. This notion that it was discovered as a “new land” began with Manifest Destiny entitling invaders to take what they want and kill if they couldn’t get it.
That is very much a part of the inspiration that drives me as I create work. The past is intricately entwined with here and now. It’s amazing to me how in our society different aspects are gently erased. It happens with the books in school – they redefine things like slavery, making it something that it never was. At the end of the day, reality is never vague, some things are undeniable.
I speak in my work of difficult subjects that are undeniable – same sex unions, fertitility control, trying to conserve our natural resources like water. It amazes me that our city could consider building a residential neighborhood in the shadow of the largest bat colony on the earth. I try to question such things in my art. My altars reflect the tradition of the Grand Altars of Mexico. I was fortunate to study with a bruja, a Wiccan witch. We traveled to 13 cities, collecting items for her Day of the Dead Altar – she trained me in this genre. It’s an oral tradition, I helped her do the first altar 20 something years ago. These days it’s become a popularity contest, a fusion of Halloween and Día de los Muertos. It’s a bastardization of sorts. When I create work, I also include contemporary concerns, but I try to stay true to the elements – Earth, Wind, Fire, Water.
There are different levels, the deity on the very top, then a celebration of our ancestors, a ceremony of memory that keeps our loved ones alive. The Altar building process involves collecting, collecting mementos, reusing mementos, pictures, always building with love, and the love grows. I call on the spirits of my grandmother, my parents, and so many of the spirits that passed during the AIDS pandemic. When a lot of people were dying at the beginning of the pandemic, it became a way of expressing grief. Everyone is going to die, death is part of life, but when people leave before they have reached their potential, there’s a sadness in that. The love changes, it grows, it becomes more intense.
Al Rendon is San Antonio’s photographer. He has spent a lifetime documenting our iconic places and unique culture. You can see more of his work at alrendon.com.