In Memoriam: Ana Guissel Palma

The Fleisher Art Memorial family and the Calaca Flaca committee are deeply saddened by the early departure of Ana Guisell Palma, who transitioned from this life on the evening of September 16, 2018, at the age of 42. Ana was an amazing artist, friend, and teacher.

I originally met Ana through her husband and long-term partner, César Viveros, one of Fleisher’s teaching artists. It would not do Ana justice to describe her solely as an artist, because she was one of the most incredible people that I’ve ever met and collaborated with.

In the winter of 2016, Ana had been recommended as a resident artist by the Calaca Flaca committee for that year’s Dia de los Muertos celebration. Long an admirer of Papier-mâché techniques, I couldn’t help but be amazed the first time I saw Ana’s expertise in the medium – she could take it wherever she wanted to. We could feel her mastery speaking through her large-scale catrina sculptures and even her smaller works, which addressed the daily push and pull of life.

Her talents didn’t stop there. Ana was extremely kind and could influence anyone around her by sharing her passions and knowledge. Ivonne Pinto, a current Calaca Flaca member is a perfect example of how influential Ana was on others. She still refers to Ana as maestra (master) with conviction. I had the pleasure of witnessing Ana’s mastery over and over again as we collaborated within Fleisher’s walls and beyond.

Ana didn’t just create objects, she created places. She could use her mind and hands to help us travel through the realm of her imagination. Her presence was felt collectively through the two Dia de los Muertos ofrendas we celebrated with her in 2016 and 2017. This year’s Día de los Muertos altar will be dedicated to Ana’s memory and I hope you can celebrate her with us on Sunday, October 28, in Fleisher’s historic Sanctuary.

Ana was as a warrior, one whose goal was to win the battle to bring us all together. She enjoyed victory in the way she was able to gather us to laugh ironically about life’s obstacles, especially death. Ana left us an incredible gift: the power to be aware and strong, especially during the pain of her sudden passing.

Ana’s memory will certainly live on. Here on earth, she leaves behind her husband and long-term colleague, two children, and a vast family that will never forget her. Her vast array of creations will always evoke her presence, too. Ana’s family has honored her request to be buried in her native city, Veracruz, Mexico, where her body can rest and her soul can resonate.

Consider helping the Viveros-Palma family:
Due to Ana’s long battle against cancer and the cost of sending her remains to her homeland, her family and friends are raising funds to assist in all related costs. If you can contribute and assist them during this difficult time, please consider donating to the family’s GoFundMe campaign.

About Ana and her work as an artist:
Originally from Veracruz, Mexico, Ana had been based in Philadelphia since 1999. Originally trained as a muralist, she pushed the boundaries of papier-maché for more than 15 years through her cultural context. From large-scale works to the development of parades, Ana created intricate pieces and ornaments that were used in various Aztec dances and ceremonies, in which Ana was often a part of. Her creations often depicted popular imagery surrounding the traditions of Meso-American cultures, but her work also integrated her own ideas that dealt with the blessings and challenges of daily life. Being based in Philadelphia also afforded her the opportunity to work on addressing local immigration policy and reform, as well as spiritual practices.

Ana received many Leeway Foundation awards, including a prestigious Leeway Transformation Award in 2017. Her skills with a wide range of mediums and her knowledge of Meso-American cultures opened avenues of collaboration with many Philadelphia-area institutions, such as Rutgers University (artist-in-residence), Fleisher (resident artist and instructor), Mural Arts Philadelphia (muralist), Casa Monarca (instructor and guest artist) and the Philadelphia Folklore Project. Her work has been exhibited in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Barnes Foundation, and the Kimmel Center of Performing Arts.

All photos by Gustavo Garcia/Colibri Workshop.

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