Forging the link between art and cultural roots

The Latino arts scene in Denver is among the most active and vibrant in the US and artists have much to draw on from their culture.

One of their main sources of inspiration is Mexico’s famed holiday of the dead Dia de los Muertos.

“My heritage is at the heart of everything I do,” says self-taught artist Angelica Jimenez.

Artistically known as Xencs, she specializes in original paintings, handcrafted jewelry and customized objects. Her cultural and ancestral tradition is the foundation of her modern approach to her visual art.

But it was through the guidance and support from family and friends that has enabled her to grow and flourish.  

“My brother, Jose, who is a great artist, encouraged me by giving me art supplies for Christmas one year.”  She was in her early 20s and only thought her creative side was writing and making music. 

“I didn’t think I had it in me to be an artist.”

A few years after she started painting, she had her first solo art show, and made all day-of-the-dead-inspired artwork. From that show came opportunity.

Although she’s known for her Day of the Dead creations, she doesn’t limit her artistic expression to life-after-death depictions.

People often limit their views to a dualistic nature, she explains, missing out on all of the colors and shades in between the black and white, life and death.

One unique aspect of Xencs’ non-stop creativity: painting live at hip hop concerts, fundraisers and themed shows.

“I truly enjoy painting live. I used to make music, so my inner performer doesn’t mind having people watch me create.”

There's a bigger force that moves through her, guiding her, she says. “I feel like art has helped me transition into having another creative platform to tell stories.”

At this time of year, she says, “I usually gather with friends and photographers to remember our loved ones through photography.”  But because of the pandemic, it won’t be the same this year.  

“I just hope we can find a way to safely honor them together and make something happen.”

Day of the Dead events and exhibits—live and virtual:

Museo de Las Americas:

Denver Art Museum:

Denver Botanic Gardens:

Longmont Museum:

Firehouse Art Center, Longmont:


Only in Mexico—where death is revered, mocked and even denied

Dating back to pre-Columbian times, this ancient ritual commemorates the transitory return to earth of deceased relatives and loved ones. 

In 2008 UNESCO proclaimed Dia de Los Muertos a Masterpiece of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In ritual observance both religious and pagan, Mexican families mingle and share a meal with the souls of their loved ones at midnight picnics in cemeteries on the nights of November 1 and 2, known as All Souls and All Saints Day.  

Church bells toll, calling souls to their gravesites while musicians serenade the deceased with their favorite songs. Vendors take advantage of the crowds by selling special holiday treats, lending a festive air to the occasion.

Private altars called ofrendas are the most prominent feature in these celebrations. Created in homes and cemeteries, they are a blend of pagan and religious imagery. Sugar skulls, pan de muerto and photographs of the deceased are placed on the altar with samples of their favorite food, drink and mementos of their past lives.  

Marigolds open the doorway to the other world. Copal, or incense, placed in a chalice is used to purify the souls of the departed and ward off evil spirits.

“I’m passionate about Day of the Dead,” says artist Xencs. 

For her, gathering the pieces for altars and artwork plays a huge part in the grieving process. 

Often confused with Halloween, it is much more than that. “It’s very reflective, more beautiful than sad—and it’s definitely not scary.”  

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