Rochester Hills artists featured in DIA’s Day of the Dead exhibition

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 25, 2023

 Valeria Zozaya and Maritere De La Fuente, both of Rochester Hills, pose next to their ofrenda, which is currently on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Valeria Zozaya and Maritere De La Fuente, both of Rochester Hills, pose next to their ofrenda, which is currently on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Photo provided by the DIA


ROCHESTER HILLS — The work of two Rochester Hills artists is on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts through Nov. 5.

Rochester Hills residents Valeria Zozaya and Maritere De La Fuente recently joined forces to create an ofrenda — commonly referred to as an altar — which has been at the core of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos for centuries.

Their design was one of 54 submitted to the DIA to make the final 14 displays selected for the 11th annual “Ofrendas: Celebrating el Día de Muertos” exhibition.

An ofrenda is an altar that is presented Nov. 1-2 — and sometimes Oct. 31 — to observe the Day of the Dead holiday, which is known as el Día de los Muertos in Spanish. It coincides with the Catholic observances of All Saints Day Nov. 1 and All Souls Day Nov. 2.

The “Ofrendas: Celebrating el Día de Muertos” exhibition — presented by the Detroit Institute of Arts, in partnership with the Mexican Consulate of Detroit and the Southwest Detroit Business Association — commemorates the heartfelt homage to cherished departed souls.

Traditionally, on the ofrendas, people place mementos of their departed loved ones — including favorite recipes, books, clothing, photos, stuffed animals, dolls, instruments and Christmas lights. Several traditional items also typically embellish an altar, including sugar skulls, candles, water, tissue paper with detailed cuts, and flowers — real, silk or paper.

Julie McFarland, the executive director of community engagement for the DIA, said the annual ofrenda exhibition connects visitors with the myriad ways in which people remember and pay tribute to their departed loved ones. The exhibition, she said, also coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month, honoring the important cultural heritage and celebrations of Hispanic and Latino Americans.

“A loss is a part of everyone’s life, so I think when people come, even though these altars are specific to the artists, they certainly speak to that general human experience of loss and remembering,” McFarland said.

A wide range of themes are explored in this year’s ofrendas exhibit — some pay homage to personal losses experienced by the artists themselves, while others cast a light on shared sorrows, accentuating contemporary events and matters of politics.

Zozoya and De La Fuente’s piece is dedicated to their ancestors and features a family tree, which Zozoya said is the purest representation of life.

“The concept was to go and honor our families, our ancestors,” Zozaya said. “Instead of a traditional ofrenda, we wanted to represent it as a tree, a family tree. … We felt that the tree would represent the idea of the altar, which typically has three levels — the underworld, earth and heaven. We thought it would be well represented with the roots of a tree being the underworld, with the trunk being the earth and the tree limbs being heaven, where all our ancestors go and live again.”

The tree, Zozoya said, represents life after death — a path to eternal life.

“They will always live in our hearts as long as we remember them,” Zozoya said of her ancestors.

McFarland said the ofrendas exhibit is very popular at the DIA — which she said offers free K-12 field trips and visits for groups of seniors of over 25 people in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties, with bus transportation.

“We book many school groups from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to come and see this exhibition,” she said. “This is one of the ways that we can highlight local artists, and it’s also one of the ways that we can create experiences that help each visitor find personal meaning with art individually and with each other, which is our mission statement.”

Those unable to visit the museum in person can enjoy a digital exhibition experience — similar to navigating Google Maps. The virtual tour permits viewers to virtually “stroll through” the exhibition, exploring each altar and the accompanying interpretive labels from the comfort of their homes. To learn more about the Ofrendas exhibition, visit

The DIA is located at 5200 Woodward Ave. in Detroit. For hours or more information, call (313) 833-7900 or visit