Monday, November 1, 2010

The Elegant Skull

La Calavera Catrina (the elegant skull) was popularized in 1913 with an etching done by artist José Guadalupe Posada. Since then, Catrina has been the rendition for the Mexican Day of the Dead, symbolizing the goddess Lady of the Dead, that dates back to the ancient Aztecs. Catrinas are very popular during the Mexican Day of the Dead which in fact is two days, not one. One day to honor and remember infants and the following to honor and remember adults. During these days the spirits of dead loved ones are lured by items such as flowers of the dead, usually marigolds, sugar skulls, tequila for adults, toys for children and religious icons such as crosses and Madonnas.

Much of the ceremonies include enticing the spirits of the departed back for a day so the souls can hear the prayers and stories their relatives offer them in remembrance and often these tales take a humorous tone as stories about the departed are shared. Often shrines are built in homes in memorandum with pictures of the deceased and these shrines often appear at local schools and government buildings. It is obvious that Mexican culture has a deep respect for mortality as mirrored in their parades on the Day of the Dead and their iconography.

When one considers that Fall, which brings about the deep sleep and death of nature with the coming of winter as well as harvest that it would follow that it be linked to human mortality and the spirit realm as echoed in our own holiday Halloween and religious days such as All Saint's Day, All Soul's Day and the Day of the Dead.

I find much of the artwork and iconography of this heritage very fascinating and often mirrored in work by artists such as Daniel Martin Diaz and Madame Talbot. Diaz incorporates much of his Latin American heritage with Catholic imagery that forms a sort of esoteric vision while Madame Talbot's death dolls and her posters with the various renditions of death conjure an otherworldliness with a macabre sense of humor. Both are artists I respect, not only because they are traditionalists in their medium but also their creative imagination. Both artists seem to dance in between worlds and their works seem to bring about a sense of the surreal and that everyday occurrences maybe rooted in some deeper meaning or purpose whether it be with a morbid tongue in cheek or Jungarian images that drift below the subconscious. I would hesitate to lump these two artists together because their approaches are miles apart, one with almost prophetic vision and the other in a humorous danse macabre. But to be sure, both are inspiring and both deal with mortality.

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