Dia de Los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, is a two-day celebration of loved ones who have passed on, currently marked by a community festival which takes place on November 1st and 2nd each year. Traditionally celebrated in Mexico and Spain and hailing from Catholic origins, the festival is now celebrated worldwide and bears fewer religious overtones.
The aim of this traditional observance is to acknowledge the time of year when the veil between the spirit world and the physical world thins, and lost loved ones return to be with their families. Traditional communities celebrate less with a parade or other boisterous jubilance, but rather with intimate gatherings of family and neighbors, setting up altars (or ofrendas) within their houses, and decorating the graves of their relatives. Altars give families an opportunity to spend time focused on their love and loss. It is not a solemn occasion by any means., nor is it a celebration of death itself or an incarnation of Halloween.
Some recognizable motifs seen within this collection are marigolds, sugar skulls, monarch butterflies, and the Catholic sacred heart.
Marigolds, meant to lead the spirits home through their sweet scent, are typically found throughout celebrating communities as they prepare to welcome their traveling ancestors.
Sugar skulls are happy, decorated skulls that have come to adorn many things relating to the modern festival – scarves, headdresses, paintings, etc. – becoming the most recognized motif of the occasion. Attendees dress up and paint their faces as colorful sugar skulls as well, symbolizing festive ancestors who are visiting their family. Sugar skulls originally began as molded skulls made of pressed sugar and bearing the name of the deceased across their forehead. These skulls would be made by the family and placed on the altar or gravestone. Monarch butterflies have been linked to the observance because of a migration pattern that aligned with the holiday’s dates. Monarchs would migrate south for the winter around that time each year and inundate Mexico with the species, which came to symbolize the lost souls returning home en masse. And the sacred heart was chosen as a motif as a nod to the Catholic origins of the holiday, but also as a simple repeating heart pattern running throughout the collection, as a reminder that Day of the Dead is more about love than death.
Headdresses and hats and flowers are often worn on the head as part of the Day of the Dead festival fashion, popularized by famous Mexican icon Frida Khalo.
The Dia de los Muertos ofrenda on display honors the artist’s Grandma, Nadine, who was also a painter. She passed on many artistic skills and a lot of encouragement to her children and grandchildren.
Ofrendas are typically decorated with photos, baked goods or favorite snacks, and other items the travelling spirit might enjoy during their visit. Traditionally set up within the family home during the holiday, there are also public celebrations which include both personal altars and celebrity altars celebrating the lives that have touched us. These are often bright and quite festive, and are frequently adorned with marigolds and colorful paper decorations.
Many beautiful aspects of Dia de Los Muertos inspired this collection, both textures and recognizable motifs you might see if you attend Birmingham’s celebration at Pepper Place November 1-4. The artist will be in attendance with more artwork available.