One-Off Day of the Dead

Art by PauloRockerDead Deco is excited to see more and more artists dipping into the Day of the Dead design pool and contributing one-offs.  The good side of this is that it creates more variety in the calavera gene-pool.  However, there is also a downside to this.  More and more artists are creating work that includes Day of the Dead influenced imagery, but it lacks any representation of the actual tradition.  Granted, Day of the Dead is a textbook example of simulacrum in a lot of ways; however, what could the future hold if there is no continuation of the historical relationship?  Dead Deco does not believe that any sort of exclusive use of the calavera should be reserved or encouraged for one group of artists and not for another, but we definitely get a feeling that something is being lost by the increased dilution of the message.

The image shown at the above left is an example of a well crafted illustration that exemplifies our discussion here.  The decoration and color scheme are beautiful and traditional.  The blending of Russian and calavera iconography is interesting and exciting.  But, the upside down cross gives us pause.  While this may be a personal expression of dissatisfaction with Christianity, we wonder why the artist has chosen to include this symbol at all?  The Day of the Dead is frequently considered to be a compilation of Catholic and native cultural influences, but it is in no way associated with anti-Christian sentiment.  This is not a tradition of anti-Christianity and the inclusion of such iconography as the inverted cross reflects an ignorance on that fact.  Where do we draw the line between what is a just decorated skull and what is emblematic of Day of the Dead?

Please leave your comments and responses in the associated space for this posting. 

1 Comment

  1. … this is actually a really fascinating question, and speaks to a much larger issue regarding the nature of “bonesmithing” (My sister’s term for the calaca/calavera-related arts, as a genre) in recent months.

    On the one hand, the heightened exposure of dia de los muertos-inspired artwork is a great thing in terms of exposure; in the right frame, it promotes not only interest in the Posada lineage and the Linares family, but also Mexican culture as a whole. It legitimizes the art form to a degree, but–more importantly–it broadens understanding of what exists at the root of it, in terms of both history, philosophy, and religion.

    On the other hand, however, this expansion has basically allowed the genre to become a broadcloth for kitsch. The simple act of slapping a sugar skull on something is easier than ever (From a motivational/profit-friendly perspective, anyway), but there’s no real heart, soul or balls to the process. In my own experience, your average American gets about as far as guessing that dia de los muertos has something to do with Mexican Halloween, Latin voodoo or rockabilly music; the impetus to understand more just isn’t generally embraced by the artisans themselves, and the end result feels more like strip-mining the bare essentials of another country’s traditions than it does a legitimate form of adaptation.

    Of course, I sit here writing this as a Russian-American guy who had the good luck to grow up just twenty minutes away from Olivera Street, and whose entire artistic career has been predicated on emulating a culture that I’m only able to appreciate from across the White Divide. I hope I don’t sound too pretentious in trying to crudely scribble some implied division between “we” and “they,” but it’s really something that’s close to my chest in terms of professional and creative interests. 😀

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