This piece allows me to weave several strands drawn from both Pre-Hispanic and popular Mexican culture. On a spiritual level, the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico is an opportunity for families to remember and honor their dead by enticing their spirits to return from the other world for a shared feast. The dead are usually represented, not by ghosts, but by an animated skeleton. On a psychological level, it is an attempt to mitigate the natural fear of death by demystifying it and making it more familiar. Thus, the skull (in Spanish: calavera), otherwise a potent symbol of death and destruction, is transformed on
this day into an edible treat made of sugar–much to the delight of children.
In part, the skulls in this piece invoke this tradition. The double row of skulls around the perimeter also harks back to Maya culture, mimicking the rows of stylized, bas-relief skulls marching around the four-sided frieze of a pyramid base in Chichén-Itzá like forboding sentinels. Because the format of the piece is proportionally similar to that of many currency bills, the overall composition–with the central medallion, the four-sided border, and the interstitial space between them–draws on the conventions of printed money. Drawing on yet another printing tradition, that of Mexican artist José Posada, the central figure is inspired by some of his prints–“La Catrina” being the most famous of them. In its irreverent, even mocking demeanor, this Mariachi personifies the dualistic, very Mexican attitude toward death, as defiant–even dismissive–as it is fatalistic.
- Pepe Kryzda
The Assembled Block