Friday, 2 November 2012

Día de los Muertos / Day of the Dead

Today is 'Día de los Muertos' or 'Day of the Dead' as it translates to, a traditional Mexican festival which originates from an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess 'Mictecacihuatl', its similar in some respects to the Christian All Saint's Day and All Souls Day which fall on the same dates [November 1st and 2nd].

The holiday is seen as a day to remember and honour the dead, with families and friends gathering to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Gatherings often take place in cemeteries with the gravestones of the departed decorated and adorn with the favourite foods and beverages, as well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them, often the tone is humorous - remembering the good times, and more of a celebration than an a mournful event.

Shrines are built at home in a similar fashion full of the departed favourite things, shells are worn on clothing to make noises to wake up spirits, sugar skulls are left as offerings for hungry spirits, and pillows/blankets are laid out for returning spirits to rest after a long journey from the afterlife.

Skulls are a common symbol of the festivities which celebrants represent in masks and facepaint, called calacas (colloquial term for "skeleton"), the painter Sylvia Ji uses this image beautifully in her work!  Chocolate and Sugar Skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead, are given as gifts to both the living and the dead.

Despite not being a religious person, I have a huge amount of respect for 'Día de los Muertos', the idea of celebrating a life and paying homage to the departed by remembering their favourite things is a lovely comforting and positive part of life, I often visit deceased relativities/friends in the graveyard and just sit and chat as if they were still alive, to me that's how I deal with their death. 

Naturally the symbology of the holiday has also had a huge influence on my work and methodology too, my fascination with anatomy extends to the uses of it as a symbol, here the skull/skeleton is seen as a symbol of mortality, a reminder than life and death are two sides of the same coin, we also all depend on our skeleton for support - without it we wouldn't be able to function! The belief here is also that our personalities continue in the afterlife - so if your deceased relative was a policeman you'd buy a skeleton dressed as a policeman for the altar/shrine to honour them, the icon then acts as a beacon for the departed soul to find its way back, hence the variety of skeletons engaged in various activities and guises! I've tried to do something similar with my dolls, since each doll is given its own personality by the makers, I've tried to give the skeleton I've painted on a personality too, and of course like the traditional doll the owners/viewers project their own ideals onto the doll too! 

So I hope you all take advantage of 'Día de los Muertos', take some time to remember those you've lost and honour them in whatever little way you can x 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Barry,
    we once went to an amazing exhibition at the Museum of Mankind in London dedicated to the day of the dead. I took lots of photos, but it was a long time before digital and a lot of my pictures had those "you shouldn't be allowed near a camera" stickers when the film came back from Boots. It was an amazing spectacle though, with wall to wall skulls and papier maché figures including a skeleton batman!