Exhibition: “Los días de los muertos”

Los días de los muertos

Los Dias de los Muertos, or The Days of the Dead, in Mexico, are celebrated November 1 and 2. This beautiful holiday is for honoring, celebrating and remembering family that has gone before. It serves to educate young family members with their ancestors by visiting grave sites, cleaning and adorning the crypts with flowers and gifts for the departed. November 1 is usually set aside to honor dead infants and children, “angelitos,” or little angels, and November 2 is for honoring those who died as adults.

sunflowers 2--Dias de los muertosSunflowers 2
Collection of Sarah Pike

The celebration goes back to pre-Columbian times. Aztec cultures celebrated their ancestry in a similar holiday in late July. Rather than abolish the pagan ritual the Spanish move the holiday to November 1 and 2 to coincide with All Saints day and All Souls day. As with many ancient cultures, the pre-Columbia dead were buried along with possessions that would help them trough the next life. Their remembrance on that day also served to ‘re-supply’ the departed.

sunflowers3--Dias de los muertosSunflowers 3
Collection of Kitty Farnham

The celebration is colorful and festive. Families visit the crypts of their loved ones, clean them and place bright bouquets and flowered wreaths. Special breads are baked call ‘pan de muerto’ as offerings. Tiny sweets shaped like coffins and skulls are left behind. Tissue paper cutouts of great intricacy called decorate the grave call ‘papel picado’.

Collection of Whit Griffin

La Muerte en la cocinaLa Muerte en la cocina

Handmade skeleton figures representing a need of the dead or a bonding with the living are left. They range from store bought plastic to intricate dioramas of matchsticks and paper.

Celebrations vary throughout Mexico. Some celebrations involve groups running through the streets, carrying a ‘dead man’ in an open coffin. The dead man smiles and waves at the crowd and they respond with oranges and little candies. Revelers wear masks of skeletons and cloaks, bringing to mind the Grim Reaper.

La Muerte está esperandoLa Muerte está esperando

La muerte pintaLa muerte pinta

La Muerte prepara el chileLa Muerte prepara el chile

Wall of SkullsWall of Skulls
Collection of Emily May

Pedro con la calaveraPedro con la calavera
Collection of AbrilMayo

In other celebrations, families picnic at the grave sides and drink toasts the departed of cervesa and tequila. It all stems from a different relationship with Death than is common in American culture. Death is a woman, known as la Flaca, la Huesuda, la Pelona or La Catrina (the Skinny, the Boney, the Baldy or the Fancy Lady. I never did like the image of being cut down as grain by the Grim Reaper. The thought that, after a hard life, full of toil, to be taken home to rest by The Fancy Lady is much more appealing.

La calavera en la nieve,La calavera en la nieve
Collection Robin Andrew

flip flopsFlip Flops

Calavera con feather boa Calavera con feather boa

calavera en gorra negraCalavera vestido en gorra negra

Los muertos

As I prepare for the day of the dead
I make two skulls
I give them Swiss army knives
And make tiny little books for them
and write tiny stories
about la Bella y el Valiente
stories with no ending
I dress him in a scrap of a black knit Armani T-shirt
And her in a scrap of a man’s white cotton shirt
There is a towel laid out on the sink
for the shower they never got
And the black on white silhouette of a naked skeleton
with permanently protruding nipples
hangs on the wall of their little box-altar home.
Rocks with green stuff on them
Rose petals from the first prom
She is about to drink a tiny cup of cafe con leche
And he is making the ristra, but he stops to kiss her neck.
And they live together in that box with their dreams
Never coming out or going in,
Stuck in that position on the altar forever.

1 Response to “Exhibition: “Los días de los muertos””

  1. 1 Lani
    July 18, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Update: “Flip Flops,” collection of Lani Stack, is proudly displayed in my dining room. I particularly love it for three reasons: I had the excellent good fortune to meet you when writing about “Los Dias de los Muertos,” and thus the whole series is close to my heart; it always reminds me of your fantastic downstairs bathroom, which I adore; and I would happily wear flip flops year round, if not for all the dratted New England snow.

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viola moriarty

(American, b. 1958)
Modern Expressionist Painter
2012-13 Recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant

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