Mexico is known for it’s ancient history, colorful architecture and delicious cuisine. But throughout Mexico, you are likely to see a sight that may send a chill up your spine.
Calaveras (skulls in Spanish) are important Mexican imagery depicted as whimiscal images of contemporary figures as skeletons.
Mexican lithographer and printer José Guadalupe Posada ignited the boom in representations of the human skeleton in the 20th century. His etching of a skeleton lady in 1913 was part of his series of calaveras and began to gain attention from other Mexican artists.
Born in Guanajato and known for his revolution of murals in Mexico, Diego Rivera gave the name “La Catrina” to Posada’s skeleton lady. La Catrina inspired Rivera to incorporate the figure in his mural “Un Sueño Dominical en la Alameda” which represents 400 years of Mexican history.
La Catrina is in the middle of the mural together with her creator, Posada, Diego Rivera as a boy, and Frida Kahlo symbolizes the end of a cycle in Mexican history and the beginning of an era as a modern country.
Rivera’s birth home in Guanajato, Mexico, holds almost 100 original works of his, including a copy of the “Un Sueño Dominical en la Alameda.” The original piece can be seen in Mexico City, where most of Rivera’s artworks reside.
The upper floors of Rivera’s home hosts temporary exhibitions of work by Mexican and international artists as well. The current exhibit showcases artwork done by students at Guanajato’s main university, where students had to portray the concept of death and calavera’s into their pieces.
Thanks to Rivera, La Catrina became an iconic image in Mexico’s culture, and artistic manifestations became infused into Mexico’s well-known Day of the Dead celebration in November. All around Mexico these images of calaveras and scultupres of decorated skeletons capture the comfortable and intimate relationship Mexicans have with death.
In case you’re interested in Rivera’s artwork, next month there will be an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art bringing together five of Diego’s murals. It will be the first time in 80 years the paintings will be displayed together. Make sure to check out “the bare square” for coverage on the event!