It's Dia de Los Muertos week at Jim Hammond's Puppet Network, and the dead giveaway is the 14-foot-tall papier-mâché Frida Kahlo skeleton being assembled inside the puppeteer's warehouse in Wilton Manors.
The Frida Kahlo clocks in at 225 pounds, with long, gray arms, red lipstick and a thick, V-shaped unibrow, which is mounted on plywood affixed to a metal wagon. So Frida doesn't conk her head on tree branches, a counterweight system uses bumper plates to dip the Mexican painter's head low, a feature that should add ease to the half-mile Skeletal Processional that will kick off Hammond's fourth annual Day of the Dead on Saturday, Nov. 2.
The centerpiece of Hammond's spirited festival, which melds the traditional Mexican holiday of remembrance with South Florida's post-Halloween exuberance, Kahlo will lead a menagerie of 40 puppet spider monkeys, illuminated mariposas (or butterflies), sugar skulls and mariachi embajadores that will march from Huizenga Park to Revolution Live.
"The celebration is all about remembering those important to us who have died," says Hammond, a finalist for the Knight Arts Challenge grant (voting ends Nov. 15), during a Monday tour of his 9,000-square-foot studio, called the Bunker. "That means an Elvis skeleton and a Marilyn Monroe skeleton counts, too."
Hammond's daylong ode to Day of the Dead has blown out in scope this year, adding new and morbid art happenings to outposts in FAT Village and the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, as well as a Boneyard Bandstand at America's Backyard with performances from Bobby Lee Rodgers, the Darling Sweets, Riot Act, Everyman and Sugar Skull Burlesque. The Revolution Live complex will hold much of the party vibe, including the dance troupes Folklorico Mexico and Bolivia Magica Ballet Folklorico, luchadores (8-10 p.m.), a body art contest (10 p.m.), a Dr. Sketchy's drink-and-draw (8-10 p.m.) and an "I'm Not Dead Yet" afterparty (midnight-4 a.m.) at Stache Bar next door.
From 7 to 11 p.m., art-minded folks should proceed to FAT Village, home to the Leah Brown- and Peter Symons- curated "Nocturnes III — Hyperstition" group show at the Projects — North warehouse; the Gallery Seventeen show "Tiempo Para los Muertos," featuring photographer Benjamin Hayward Smith's landscapes and portraits inspired by Day of the Dead; the "What Is Truly Alive? The Art of Puppetry" exhibit at World and Eye; and a Gallery 521 display of about 40 ofrendas, or eclectic memorials containing marigolds, candles and artifacts belonging to the dead.
"These ofrendas will be all over the city. People can put them in their living rooms, take a picture and send it to us, and we'll post them on Facebook," says Chuck Loose, a Day of the Dead co-organizer whose printing company, Iron Forge Press, shares space at the Bunker. "The pizza joint on Himmarshee even said they wanted to make an ofrenda of James Gandolfini, because they've got this big 'Sopranos' poster on the wall."
At the Museum of Art, meanwhile, the Puppet Network will teach a parade float and paper figurine workshop from 2 to 6 p.m., paired with a 3 p.m. screening of the film "Frida."
Day of the Dead
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2 until 12:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 3
Where: various locations in downtown Fort Lauderdale, including NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, FAT Village, and Revolution Live
Cost: Free, includes complimentary trolley service from 5 to 11:30 p.m.