Bare Hands’ Día de los Muertos commemoration began in November 2003 with a Day of the Dead-inspired installation at Bare Hands Gallery. Artist Tracy Martin built the installation in honor of her father, noted civil rights photographer James “Spider” Martin, who died earlier that year. Spider’s memorial was eagerly embraced by a small group of artists and friends, and thus began the celebration at Bare Hands every November 2 that grew with each passing year, becoming a cherished cultural celebration of life -- and death -- in Birmingham. In continuing memory of Spider Martin, toy spiders, Spider-Man action figures and prints from his powerful photo archive are placed on an altar for him each year.
The initial group was careful to nurture the event and protect it from commercialization as much as possible. From its inception, the event was designed as a Day of the Dead-influenced memorial celebration, where all remembrance traditions are welcomed and where the U.S. traditions of Decoration Day and New Orleans Jazz Funeral Processions are also core elements. Bare Hands is a small, largely volunteer-run organization, and the festival has grown organically over the years. As the community and its diversity have continued to grow, it has become clear that the budding arts and cultural gathering has strong potential to build ties throughout the city and region.
The festival is made possible by countless volunteer hours, given to create an experience that respects the tradition and heart of Mexico’s sacred Day of the Dead remembrance, which combines flowers, music, food, stories, friends, family and memorials in honor of those who have gone before. Many say the gathering has brought them a stronger, broader sense of community. Personal remembrances (ofrendas), family crafts and puppet shows, music, procession, memorial roll call, local artists’ market (mercado), food and beverage vendors, face painters and more are all part of this unique cross-cultural celebration.
Due to exciting development in midtown and the growth of the festival itself, 2015 marked the last year in the traditional location at 2115 1st Ave. South. The Bare Hands board of directors is exploring new potential locations and will be making an announcement later this year. We also encourage you to visit our list of Día de los Muertos festival Frequently Asked Questions here.