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Party With Skulls And Skeletons: Day of The Dead in Mexico

Latin American Art

Party With Skulls And Skeletons: Day of The Dead in Mexico

Heaven and earth are never this close as today. Today, 2nd of November is the Day of the Dead, when spirits come to earth to meet their relatives and eat and drink with them. At least this is what happens in Mexico…

Diego Rivera, The sacrificial offering. Day of the Dead, 1924, Court of Fiestas, Mexico

Diego Rivera, The sacrificial offering. Day of the Dead, 1924, Court of Fiestas, Mexico

The origins of this day and its basic motifs can be traced back 3000 years, to the Aztecs, but the iconography of skeletons and skulls that is so familiar to us today, we merit to José-Guadalupe Posada, who drew hundreds of personified skeletons, and Diego Rivera, who portrayed the traditional celebrations of this holiday.

Diego Rivera, The Day of the Dead, 1944, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

Diego Rivera, The Day of the Dead, 1944, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

On this day people visit their dead in cemeteries. They bring food, drink, they play cards, sing songs and pray. They also make colourful altars to their family spirits in their houses, which are decorated with flowers, feathers, nuts, candies and chocolate skulls.

Jose Guadalupe Posada, Calavera From Oaxaca

Jose Guadalupe Posada, Calavera From Oaxaca, 1910

Calavera means ‘skull’, but its meaning can be extended to ‘skeletons’. Posada made a whole series of etchings depicting calaveras doing some nasty, or less nasty, things. This proud-looking one is dressed as a charro, traditional Mexican cowboy. He is running past a crowd of skeletons with a blood-stained knife in his hand.

Jose Posada, El Jarabe en ultratumba, 1910

Jose Posada, El Jarabe en ultratumba, 1910

The Folk Dance Beyond the Grave depicts a group of merry skeletons who are celebrating their holiday. They eat, drink, play music and dance the traditional Mexican folk dance, jarabe.

José-Guadalupe Posada, Calavera of the Cyclists (Calavera las biciletas),c. 1889-1895

José-Guadalupe Posada, Calavera of the Cyclists (Calavera las biciletas),c. 1889-1895, MoMA

Posada published his etchings in public press, often with a satirical message. This time however it’s more a moralistic one: it’s never too late to pick up sports!

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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