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    ‘El Día de Los Muertos: Remembering January 8th,’ exhibit opens

    Rebecca Noble

    A portion of the sprawling Día De Los Muertos: Remembering January 8th Exhibit, including a video detailing the fateful day’s events with a box of tissues and a bench for viewing at the Arizona Historical Society on Tuesday. The exhibit features hundreds of items from those left at various shrines put up in the aftermath of the Jan. 8, 2011, shootings.

    Overwhelming is the best way to describe the newest exhibit at the Arizona History Museum.

    Opening to the public today, guests walk through a trail of mementos collected from the various shrines erected in the aftermath of the Jan. 8, 2011, shootings, which left six Tucson residents dead and another 13 wounded.

    Hundreds of cards, posters, candles and teddy bears litter two rooms of the museum. The exhibit, which is titled “El Día de Los Muertos: Remembering January 8th,” takes guests through one room commemorating the deceased victims of the shootings and then another displaying the outpour of community sentiment in the days following the tragedy.

    Much of the sentiment is addressed to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was one of the 13 wounded. Encouraging words from local school children and community leaders are etched across various tiles and rocks scattered throughout the exhibit.

    “Every time you walk through here you find something new,” said Julia Arriola, the exhibit curator. Arriola said she designed the exhibit to reflect the original shrines that were mounted outside the UA Medical Center and Giffords’ district office. The way items had spontaneously conglomerated together to build a trail is something she aimed to mirror in the exhibit.      

    “It started as a tragedy,” Arriola said, “but then there was this ripple effect of healing.” Some memorial items include posters delivered all the way from New Mexico and Canada.

    When first entering the exhibit, guests are greeted by six, solemn white crosses with the names of the six victims planted in front of a large altar. Arriola said these crosses were originally placed across the street from the Safeway supermarket on Ina and Oracle roads where the shootings took place.  

    All the items in the exhibit are borrowed from the Tucson’s January 8th Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization working to create a permanent memorial for the shootings. The foundation plans to build the permanent memorial at the Old Pima County Courthouse on North Church Avenue.

    Arriola visited the foundation’s warehouse over the summer to begin sorting through the numerous boxes of items collected from around Tucson. As an artist, Arriola said she tried to pick items that would show well amidst a crowd of other items. 

    An area of the exhibit that visually pops out is a garden of paper mache cacti made by the students of Wright Elementary School. Many branded with the name Gabby, the cacti are strung about a corner of the exhibit to reflect the natural beauty of the desert landscape.

    Sitting next to the cactus garden is a single, grey tile, which Arriola said is one of her favorite items in the exhibit.

    A phrase painted across the grey tile reads, “May the spirit of this sacred desert heal and keep you all.”

    The opening of the exhibit was planned to coincide with the annual celebration of Día de Los Muertos. Arriola said the first part of the exhibit is meant to honor the six victims in the same fashion as the Mexican holiday.

    “We are deeply honored to have this special tribute be part of the city’s celebration of all who have died,” said Karen Christensen, the board president of the Tucson January 8th Memorial Foundation. When the exhibit closes on Jan. 15, 2015, all the items will be returned to the Tucson January 8th Memorial Foundation.

    Members of the victims’ families were invited to a special unveiling of the exhibit on Tuesday afternoon. The Arizona History Museum has also invited former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her family to visit the exhibit.

    At the end of the exhibit is a small bench where a single box of tissues rests on top, as Arriola said its hard to fight back tears after walking through this trail of communal support.


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