Collaborating with the Oakland Museum of California, John Jota Leaños created a new media opera, “Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta / A Dead Opera in Four Animated Acts,” an installation, containing “El Muertorider,” and related events that formed a centerpiece for the Museum’s 2006 Days of the Dead program. The project’s components were: an animated opera; an installation featuring a customized high-tech 1968 Chevy Impala with video and sound projections–created in collaboration with Artemio Rodríguez; and pilot Days of the Dead lesson plans.
Leaños’s opera weaves together satire, social commentary, and remembrance, and features mariachi, boleros, huapangos, rock-en-Español, children’s rhymes and Chicano blues—creating an unique digital ofrenda. The installation’s centerpiece, “El Muertorider” pays homage to the complex and innovative history of cruising and low riding in California with a “Dead Lowrider.” Museum visitors were able to sit in the car and listen to the radio and view the animation on a screen inside the car.
John Jota Leaños is an interdisciplinary Chicano artist and educator merging new forms with traditional practice. He has developed a body of performances, public artworks, installations, sound work and new media work that seeks the convergence of memory, history, and social space.
“Imperial Silence” marked an opportunity for the Oakland Museum of California to launch a new “Artists-in-Action” pilot program. With collections devoted to the art, history, and natural sciences of California, the museum fosters appreciation and understanding of the state’s complex story and environment. The Days of the Dead is among its most popular offerings, serving up to 18,000 visitors per year, including more than 6,000 students from local schools.