On Sunday my friends and I went to the Oakland Día de los Muertos festival centered around the Fruitvale BArt station, and all I can say is, “Wow!” What an extravaganza of sights, smells, & sounds… it was like a trip south of the border, but right here in our own backyard. As we exited the BArt station, the wailing tones of a trumpet greeted us… somehow that sound always says to me, “Mexico!”
This was the scene…
El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and by Latin Americans living in the U.S. and Canada. It is a day to celebrate and remember friends and family members who have died, and has its origins in an Aztec festival thousands of years old, dedicated to the worship of the Goddess Mictecacihuatl (Queen of the Underworld, Lady of the Dead) [Wikipedia]. For this reason there were numerous dance troupes performing traditional Aztec dances throughout the festival. Their headdresses were quite fantastical with feathers sometimes four feet long. Here are a few…
The traditional means of honoring ones loved ones is to build an alter to them. These typically include a picture of the person being remembered, items they were fond of, food, candles, flowers, gifts, and more. They can be quite small & simple (a few items inside a shoebox) or incredibly large & elaborate with intricate artistic displays… we saw several that had amazing motifs created out of colored sand, rocks, beans, and more. Here are a few…
There were carnival rides too… we had to go down the superslide!
And extensive arts & crafts stations were set up throughout the festival where kids (and grownups) could create paper masks, paint sugar skulls & ceramic skeletons, cut patterned paper festival banners, and more. It was quite wholesome and so inspiring to see all the budding young artists at work!
There were also plenty of grown-up artists displaying their wares. Typical Day of the Dead art incorporates skulls and skeleton figures into scenes reminiscent of those still alive… dancing, playing music, etc. This is meant to “show the duality of life, which is that it can only exist surrounded by death… that death is a part of life, to be accepted and acknowledged instead of feared.” [http://diadelosmuertos.us]
I particularly loved this artist’s work (below). His name is Ivan Rubio and you can see more of his incredible paintings at his myspace page: rubio (I couldn’t find his regular website.) Please check him out… this photo doesn’t do his beautiful work justice.
Have you heard about the mummy museum in Guanajuato, Mexico? While an extremely popular tourist attraction in Mexico, it is also another example of the poor being exploited. It’s a sad story. In the late 1800’s, people who lived there were required to pay a tax to keep a relative buried in the local cemetery. If you could not pay the tax, your relative was disinterred or dug up. While the local government disinterred bodies of the poor whose families could not pay the tax, it was discovered that a number of them had naturally mummified. A museum was created to show off the mummies and it has become one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Mexico. Several years ago, I visited the “museum” and photographed of the mummies which are pretty striking and scary. I’ve always wanted to do some sort of project with the photographs for day of the dead to honor the now nameless people who are the mummies of Guanajuato. An attempt for this gringo to give them some long overdue respect. Your post reminded me that I have exactly one year to finally get my act together. Thanks!
I hadn’t heard of that… thanks for the heads up. It reminds me of “The Bodies” exhibit of cadavers that was touring the states awhile back. I wondered about where these people came from given that they were predominantly male and seemed to have rather short body types… Turns out it was a similar story: Asian males, often homeless, penniless, with no family members to attend to (or pay for) proper burial/cremation of their bodies. They were simply taken advantage of and used to turn a profit (though to be fair, the counterargument is that they were used to advance science education).
I actually have been to the Museo de las Momias. It’s pretty crazy. Worth checking out if you happen to be in Guanajuato – a beautiful little town. According to this crazy website, the Mexican Mummies may be on their way to a town near us!
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