There is a long tradition of art depicting skeletons in Mexico. Calavera means skull and by extension of course skeleton. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Jose Guadalupe Posada began creating engraving and etchings to illustrate the newspapers of the day called broadsheets. His prints of skeletons doing everyday jobs are still called calaveras today. Posada was the first to sketch the skeletons wearing contemporary clothes and become part of day to day scenes’ that portrayed the upper class Mexican. Of course the calaveras were usually the servant girl wearing cast off clothes. Calavera etchings were generally of women because in Mexico death is portrayed as a woman (la muerte).
Posadas’s most famous etching is of La Calavera Catrina who has become an icon in Mexico representing the Dia De Los Muertos. The name La Calavera Catrina is derived from Diego Rivera’s work Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda. The mural portrays over 400 years of Mexican history and it includes Posada, Frida Kahlo and himself. La Catrina has been given a body and a very expensive outfit; it is believed Rivera depicted Calavera this way to indicate that death applies to all of us including the rich. The culture of La Calavera Catrina’s is also politically inclined as it has ties to The Porfirio Diaz regime, whose accomplishments include modernizing Mexico in spite of the existing governments’ repressions and corruption.
So Catrina was used to symbolize the differences between the upper and lower classes. The thought is that we are all really just a bag of bones beneath our fancy clothes and that the rich have nothing on the rest of us. In societal terms it was also a new way of looking at class and wealth within a society that was rapidly changing. These days La Catrina has come to represent the Day of the Dead and the images of her and other skeletons are now an art form in Mexico.
Calavera in Mexico can mean one of three things. During Los Dias de Los Muertos you will see a huge variety of edible skulls. These were made originally from sugar and now can be found in anything sweet from chocolate to decorated cookies. You will also see calavera candles decorating the graves of family members. Calaveras are also funny poems that have at their core jokes about politicians, famous people or simply family members. Finally calaveras can be spotted on everything from t-shirts to designer clothing, graffiti murals, tattoos, incredible Huichol art, sculptures and anything in between.
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