Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Mexican Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead T-shirt -- the teeth frightened my mum once
Yesterday I was wearing my Day of the Dead T-shirt. It's only from TopShop but I like it. It reminded me of my obsession, a few years ago, with the Mexican Day of the Dead. That started with the exhibition at the Museum of Mankind in London (sadly no longer in existence -- why on earth not?) where they actually sold some papercuts and calaveras, candles and skeletons that the curators had bought in Mexico. I was very taken with the whole thing, which appealed to my love of the macabre as well as my interest in folk art.

An ofrenda (shrine) from the Museum of Mankind exhibition
Actually, though, I didn't find any of it in the least bit macabre in the sense of making me feel afraid or uneasy. I felt completely in tune with the rather lighthearted, almost casual celebration of departed relatives, buying their favourite beer or cigarettes to treat them when they came back for a visit.
     I got it into my head that I would create my own Day of the Dead. At the time I was living in a rented flat in North London. There was a small spare bedroom that I decided to transform into a Day of the Dead celebration. It took quite a few weeks of making crepe paper flowers and dancing cardboard skeletons. I bought a lot of old embroidered tablecloths and fairylights plus enough tealights to burn down London. I haven't got many good photos, and none that shows the room in full.

My great grandfather flanked by two of his four daughters
My great grandfather the tinsmith was the main figure to whom the offerings were made, although that was mainly as he was so photogenic. I'm sure he would not have been enticed by Sol beer and exotic fruit.

I invited all my friends to come and celebrate the Day of the Dead. Needless to say, quite a few of them were nonplussed and stayed mostly in the kitchen where there was the inevitable vat of chilli. Afterwards I wrote a story about it which I was quite pleased with.


Kitsch and Curious said...

I went to the exhibition at the Museum of Mankind, and was mightily inspired.

Did you see the programme about the Day of the Dead that was on... last year, I think? The presenter joined in the celebration with a Mexican family, and for the first time, I felt I really understood it. Partly it was because they really tried to understand it, rather than just going 'Ooh, look! Skeletons!' and also I think it was because of my mum having died last year. It made me see the emotional benefit of it.

Mind you, I do still like it on a 'Skeletons!' level too.

Space Cadet said...

You might want to check out my Folk Art of Cactus County blogs.

Jane Housham said...

Yes, there's so much more to it than just skeletons, isn't there? I wish I'd seen that programme but it passed me by. I think I've managed to post my story now, as a 'page' on the right-hand side.