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  HOME | Mexico

Mexico’s Day of Dead Symbol Was Born as Social Criticism

AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico – Mexican women dressed up on Wednesday as Catrina, the engaging symbol of the festival in the country, to mark the Day of the Dead.

One such young woman, Valeria Lopez, told EFE she loves the tradition and look forward to it every year.

“I wait the whole year to put on the costume, because I find it a beautiful tradition,” she told EFE.

The image of Catrina was originally drawn as a criticism of Mexican women who ditched their humble beginnings by Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator and lithographer Jose Guadalupe Posada, Veronica Zacarias, professor and guide of Jose Guadalupe Posada Museum in Aguascalientes, told EFE.

“The intention behind the image was to represent women who achieved a high social status and left their own traditions by trying to dress and behave like Europeans,” said Zacarias.

Posada, who was born in Aguascalientes in 1852, called the image “Calavera Garbancera,” a character representative of women – often domestic workers – who tried to hide their humble beginnings during the post-revolutionary period in Mexico City.

The verses written by Antonio Vanegas, who was the editor of the newspaper where Posada worked, also severely criticized these women.

In Posada’s image Catrina is portrayed as a skeleton, with a happy expression and wearing a large hat adorned with feathers and flowers.

Posada drew a few bows behind her ears – as domestic workers used to wear during that era – said Zacarias.

Catrina was one of the artist’s last works that was published ten months after his death in November 1913.

The image was reproduced on hundreds of newspaper pages which were sold for a few cents to pedestrians in the capital, but it created a lasting impression on the collective imagination of Mexicans when it was included by painter Diego Rivera in his mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, as a tribute to its creator.

According to Zacarias, when he was young, Rivera met the painter while he was working in his workshop in central Mexico City.

Apart from including Posada as one of the central figures of the mural, Rivera also portrayed the complete body of Calavera Garbancera, but gave her the form and elegance of an affluent woman, said Zacarias.

“When Rivera painted her in his mural, he changed her social status, transforming her into a woman from a higher social class and calling her Catrina,” the professor added.

 

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