The Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico on the 1st and 2nd of November. The day encourages family and friends to gather and pray for their loved ones of whom they have lost and to support them on their spiritual journey. Beautiful colours and skull imagery are used throughout the celebration. So, what happens during the celebration and why are skulls so important..?
The History of Skulls
Skull imagery is becoming more popular in the society of today. They often appear on clothing, jewellery, ornaments and tattoos. But what do they symbolise?
In pre–Columbian times, images of skulls and skeletons were shown in paintings and pottery – they were used to show the next stage of life. Usually, they are a representation of death and mortality and sometimes evil. In 1892, Charles Allan Gilbert used a skull to represent vanity. The painting shows a lady sitting at a dressing table, looking in the mirror. The components of the image create the outline of a skull. Skulls are also used to celebrate the dead by decorating them in bright colours. Unusually, on Day of the Dead, they connote a positive representation.
Candy skulls are a decorative representation of the human skull, usually made by hand from sugar. These edible creations are used during the Day of the Dead. Traditionally, sugar skulls are placed on altars. Small sugar skulls represent children, while the larger represent adults. The skulls are brightly coloured and decorated with coloured foil, icing, beads and feathers in a unique art form which celebrates the person’s life. These are accompanied by candles and the deceased favourite food or drink as the departed are believed to return home to enjoy offerings at the altar.
How is the altar decorated?
Day of the Dead altars are set during the celebration to honour the dead. During October, people flood to the markets to buy what they need to decorate the altars. Candied and colourful paper cut-outs sell out. Vibrant material goods created for the Day of the Dead have become an important part of the folk art of Mexico. On the eve of 31st October, the altars for the children are set. This includes white flowers – a symbol of purity, hot chocolate, sweets and toys. Then on the eve of 1st November, the altars honour the adults with flowers, food and alcohol. These are accompanied by different items depending on the region. Typically, the altar would include: Pictures, bread, candles, personal objects and a water – to calm the soul’s thirst after their journey. The altars are a way to show the soul the way to their home.
The souls take the essence out of the food and drink so after the celebration, the family will gather to eat and drink the things provided.
Artists and Day of the Dead inspired art
Many artists have carried the tradition of the skull are and have made it the subject of their pieces.
- David Lozeau creates Day of the Dead art in a non-traditional way. He creates unique, expressive skeleton characters in a graphic presentation. His work layers enamel over acrylics to achieve fins details and a smooth bright finish.
- Another artist, José Guadalupe Posada creates work which is heavily influenced by Day of the Dead. He creates pieces which feature prints of skulls and skeletons.
Did you know?…
Day of the Dead featured in the Bond movie Spectre? In the opening scene, Bond strolls through a Day of the Dead parade. No such procession has ever taken place in Mexico City before but, inspired by the film, officials decided to host a similar parade for the occasion in October 2016. Read more>>
Our range – #139_Day of the Dead
Interested? Our new range ‘Day of the Dead’ is here. Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico around the same time as Halloween in many other countries. In our range, grotesque meets gorgeous in a sumptuous, decorative homage to the memory of our ancestors.
Created by Ben Cross, we have six Day of the Dead editions in full colour and 6 black and white, decorative versions for Halloween. Which ancestor will you choose?