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Spirits of the Dead Return to Sunset Park for Dia de los Muertos Nov. 2

By Alan Neuhauser | October 19, 2012 11:57am | Updated on October 19, 2012 2:10pm

SUNSET PARK — Spirits of the dead will be welcomed to Sunset Park Friday night, Nov. 2, at a Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration hosted by three Brooklyn artists.

"Everyone has gone through the passing of a loved one, we all have ancestors," organizer and Sunset Park resident Adrian Roman said.

"It's a way to honor them and show that they're important in our lives."

The event, traditionally a Mexican holiday to honor and celebrate the lives of late friends and relatives, runs from 7 to 11 p.m. outside Trinity Lutheran Church on 46th Street. Its centerpiece will be a cube-shaped 8-feet by 8-feet altar, open on one side for visitors to enter and leave behind photos, flowers, mementos and hand-written notes for late friends and family members.

"The concept of these offerings is so when the spirit of this person does come to be with you for this evening of celebrating their life, they have the things that make them comfortable," Roman, 35, explained.

"You put the food and things that they liked. If they smoked tobacco, you'll probably want to have some tobacco. Certain things of candy that they liked."

Local businesses will be selling or giving away flowers and candles outside the celebration for those who arrive empty-handed.

Roman organized his first Dia de los Muertos celebration at Fresthetic gallery in Williamsburg last year with friend and fellow artist Ben Rojas.

"I'm originally from California, the Bay Area, and out there the Day of the Dead is like celebrated in a big way," said Rojas, who will bring photos and newspapers remembering his grandparents, Blanca and Carlos Vega, at the event.

"I felt, especially in Brooklyn, there wasn't really a celebration or something that was taking note of an important day. So we decided to make it ourselves."

Others apparently felt the same. Although Roman and Rojas invited only friends and family last year, more than 100 people turned out. This year, the pair decided to open the event to the wider community, and brought aboard videographer and Sunset Park resident Amical Carino, 29, to record the event.

"I'm going to light a candle for my grandfather and my aunts," Carino said.

Roman, who built and painted the altar with Rojas, said he will leave a Bible, photographs, a hat and a handkerchief for his great grandmother, Juanita Perez, and his grandfather, Fernando Roman, who moved from Puerto Rico in the 1940s and opened a barbershop in Spanish Harlem.

"He was the spiritual rock of the family," Roman described. "Always reminding us of God, and always reminding us of prayers and stuff like that."

In addition to the handmade altar, the celebration Nov. 2 will feature an a capella performance by ASE Music Group, Rojas said, a "women-of-color" dance company and music ensemble led by Rojas' wife, Adia Whitaker. Last year, the singers painted their faces to look like skulls and donned Victorian-era, African-print dresses. This time, they'll likely lead a procession around the block.

"They do Afro-Haitian folklore, but with a contemporary twist," Rojas described, a performance style that he says dovetails with the tradition of Dia de los Muertos: "Paying respects to the foundation, but then allowing the freedom of updating and creating new ceremonies."