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the day of the dead

the day of the dead.
Curiosity, wonder and fascination are the emotions impregnating this issue of Artes de México. Unlike those who believe that México’s culture of death has already been thoroughly explored, we are more inclined to think it comprehends a richer universe than what is widely claimed, and that there is much to be learned about it.

We have chosen to tackle the phenomenon of the Day of the Dead, but leaving aside it urban aspect for another occasion, and instead concentrating on the many variants on this celebration to be found in small towns throughout the country, most of them with a largely indigenous population. During this holiday period, most normal activities are suspended. Homes and cemeteries are transformed, taking on a new guise and an entire range of meanings. The living expectantly await the annual visit of the souls with whom they will interact, establishing an intense dialogue with them. The dead come to life in the memory of the living, who evoke their particular customs, tastes, virtues and defects. There is no room for rejection here, but perhaps for a certain degree of reproach.

In each community, this dialogue takes on a specific form: strict standards of hospitality and millenary codes of conduct that each participant understands entirely, because the laws governing that interaction are the laws of life. In communities that celebrate the Day of the Dead there are no surprises. But for those who have an outsider’s view of these celebrations, the surprises are many. In this dialogue between the living and the dead, incarnated in altars and offerings, we note one surprising common denominator: their strong aesthetic sense. In ephemeral compositions made of earth, flowers, candles, baskets, colored paper, wooden or iron crosses and even plastic ornaments, we recognize one of the more fertile dimensions of folk art. In each of these majestic offerings, we discover a transcendent and vital art form, as well as an unburdening of the soul that detonates in an explosion of forms and colors.

There are some offerings that, with a handful of marigold petals and two or three candles, form a composition of great simplicity and harmony in tones of deep ocher. Others are more baroque, and reveal an aesthetic dimension that satisfies by demonstrating a natural adeptness at creating beauty. More than a celebration of the dead, are the creators of these works not celebrating life? Might these rituals not be an intense prolongation of life in the midst of death?

 

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