Special Feature: Altars of Writers & Artists: Daniel Del Real & Indianapolis’s Global Village Welcome Center

Daniel Del Real Interviewed by Natalie Solmer

Ofrenda by Daniel Del Real

NS: You are a curator at Indianapolis’s Global Village Welcome Center, which entails creating events and exhibits which showcase the many different cultures represented in Indianapolis. I think many people outside of Indianapolis don’t realize what a cosmopolitan city we are! When I first moved to Indy a number of years ago, I quickly made friends with people from all over the world, which was a pleasant surprise for me as well. I now live on the West side, very near the ‘International Marketplace,’ and where Indy’s Global Village is located. Can you talk a little bit about your position as a curator and what that entails?

DDR: Being the curator for the Global Village is a really wonderful job. I get to meet and work with people from all over the world and learn new things about other cultures. My absolute favorite part of this job is when I get to hear stories from community partners and visitors to the center. Often, the conversations revolve around objects that are donated to the center, but sometimes the stories come about as I try to relate or work together with these partners. Some of these stories can be humorous and some can be quite sad. One recent story I heard regarding pets, was from a community partner from China who told me about her silk worms and a chicken she had as pets growing up in Shanghai. She used to live in one of the top levels of a high rise and one day her chicken jumped off the balcony. So she rushed down the elevator to go fetch her chicken. She picked her chicken from among a group of many and took it back to her apartment. Moments later there was a knock on her door from an angry neighbor demanding the return of their chicken. It turns out she grabbed the wrong one but never knew if she ever got the right chicken after that. Another story came about when a gentleman from Venezuela walked into our building. We have a transparent donation box near the entrance where we occasionally receive foreign currency. A few weeks prior, a visitor had deposited some bolivar bills (Venezuela’s currency). These bills were still freshly visible and when the Venezuelan gentleman saw them, he immediately began to cry. At first I thought we had somehow upset him but after gaining his composure he shared with us that his wife and children were there and he was here working hard to bring them here. The bills reminded him of his situation and all we could do was try to console him. He ultimately shared that he regretted his decision to leave but returning was no longer an option. Stories like this are essentially windows to what’s going on around the world, and the artifacts that we display don’t necessarily tell these stories. I’d like to expand upon our collection to include ways that we can tell these stories both at the center or through other means.

Ofrenda by Juan Gabriel Tiscareño

Orenda by Vanessa Monfreda

NS: I was so excited to see your exhibit for Día de los Muertos and that you were exhibiting ofrendas. (This exhibit can be seen in person until November 4th!) I felt this would be wonderful to showcase for our last feature on altars and altar making in The Indianapolis Review. I know that you are also an artist. How does this practice of ofrenda making intersect with your practice as an artist and with your creativity?

DDR: I think the two go hand in hand. There’s a saying in Mexico that goes “What Mexican isn’t an artist?” Which basically is a round about way of saying all Mexicans are artists. This is very much visible in ofrendas because I look at them as works of art. You can see that there is thought that goes into the selection and the placement of objects. It’s sort of like building a vignette or grouping of objects and our desire to make them look aesthetically pleasing. It’s not much different than decorating a shelf or a curio cabinet. There’s a lot of conscious and unconscious decision-making involved very much like artists approach creating a work of art. For this exhibit I made 24 wooden crates and sent a call out to our international artists database as well as our volunteers database in addition to making public posts on Facebook and Instagram. In just a few days I had all 24 crates claimed by a variety of people who both identify as artists and who do not. 

I attached a sheet to each crate detailing a few guidelines and instructions for building the ofrendas. Other than a few simple rules, each person had free reign on what to do with their ofrenda. One thing that we tend to overlook when we see the finished product is the act of creating it and all the processes that come into play. These processes very much go in line with art making. In the beginning you have the act of remembering the person who you will honor in your ofrenda. In the art world, this is your subject. It’s usually something or someone of high sentimental value. Then comes the ideation, the act of visualizing what the ofrenda can or should look like. As an artist, this is the step where you create a sketch. Then you gather objects or materials. The crate is the canvas. The objects are the medium. Then you finally bring it all together and the finished ofrenda is very much a work of art, but throughout the entire process, there’s that therapy and healing that occurs that is in my opinion the most valuable part of creating the ofrenda. In art, you often hear this referred to as the escape or the expression. That therapy is life changing, and we crave it. This is why so many people get excited about creating ofrendas.

Ofrenda by Daniel Del Real

NS: What is at least one valuable thing you have learned from your practice of creating a sacred space? This lesson doesn’t necessarily have to be about art or writing or creativity; it can just be something about life.

DDR: I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned from organizing the Día de Muertos exhibit and event and just working at the Global Village in general is that you learn, grow, and build more when you open the door to involve more voices. Voices from afar, voices from near, voices from within. You may think you know something, but then you might hear a story that alters your perception, and the experience is always humbling. 

Ofrenda by Kelly Meyer

Ofrenda by Zennester Reed

About Daniel:

Daniel Del Real is an Indianapolis based creative. He was born in Tijuana, Mexico and immigrated to the US with his mother at just a year old. Early on in his childhood Daniel desired artistic expression and creation.

In elementary, he’d get called on by teachers to draw whales. At home Daniel would occupy his time drawing his own versions of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, designing his own pogs, or building things like a claw machine from cardboard and string.

​In middle school, Daniel made sure to always take art and design classes as his electives. He developed an interest in print design after taking a graphic design course. In that course, Daniel designed his first logo, a monogram of his first initial using blackletter styling. He later used that logo in memo pad that he still has today.

​In high school, Daniel continued taking art courses and delved into photography for the first time. He’d experiment with early digital cameras as well as the Game Boy Camera and Printer. He would always enjoy using unconventional tools and equipment to achieve different results. His later photography experiments would lead him to use pin hole cameras as well as the Nintendo DS camera.

​Daniel graduated from the University of Indianapolis in 2005, obtaining a degree in Visual Communication Design. He worked as a graphic designer at Ponce Publicidad, a Latino graphic design and advertising firm. He has also worked as a furniture designer and re-designer under his business Eclecticism.

​Following those two jobs as a designer, Daniel shifted to visual art when he opened and co-managed a gallery and studio collaborative known as Two-Thirds Studio. Working in that collaborative Daniel co-founded and served as the director of visual arts programming for Nopal Cultural, a Latino arts collaborative serving Central Indiana.

​Additionally, he has curated numerous exhibitions for area institutions such as the Eiteljorg Museum and the University of Indianapolis. Throughout his career Daniel has encouraged intercultural dialogue in the arts, promoting and lifting minority artists by helping them develop the skills needed to navigate the art world, as well as creating opportunities for these artists to showcase their work. 

​Today, Daniel serves as the curator for the Global Village Welcome Center, a cultural museum located in Indy’s International Marketplace neighborhood. Daniel’s work as a curator focuses on cultural exchange. He helps to create dialogue between different groups of people in a creative space, resulting in mutual understanding and appreciation. Visitors to the Global Village often find themselves learning new things and adjusting their misconceptions about cultures not their own. 

​As an artist, Daniel works to incorporate his own understanding and appreciation for cultures into visuals and stories. He uses the same process to express his own experiences as a Mexican immigrant. His ongoing and most important work is No Seas Concha, a soft sculpture that invites viewers to sit on it. Viewers unfamiliar with the Mexican pastry “concha” are given a correlation to a “yeast donut.” This correlation allows non-Mexican viewers who are unfamiliar with the concha an instant appreciation for the soft sculpture that instinctively leads to a smile.

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