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The Transcendence of Day of the Dead’s Art

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

Day of the Dead is a two-day holiday which originated in Mexico and has been prevalent in Latin America, encompassing Spanish culture, European religion and Mesoamerican rituals. The holiday is filled with unique traditions where the souls of the deceased are celebrated and welcomed through rituals, music, food and events. Its vibrant colours, decorations and celebrations characterize this celebration and add a twist and new perspective on a topic which is usually seen as of a somber nature. It is on November 1 and 2 that people commemorate those who have passed on. Artisans of all skill levels get creative and create handmade designs, art and figurines which are well known to have transcended beyond the holiday and onto other parts of the world.

To get a better sense of Mexico’s Day Of The Dead artistic significance, I talked to Carolina Licon Marquez, a contemporary and abstract Mexican painter from Chihuahua who has been an active participant in Art Downtown. In her work, she exudes her vibrant spirit and personality by using vivid and vibrant colours.

Carolina, who arrived in Vancouver 15 years ago, feels her essence and energy as a painter was brought over to Canada from her natal country.

“I transform my energy into colours,” she says.

Carolina says Mexican immigrants have influenced Canada’s colours in art and suggests there’s a point where different cultures mix their authentic colours together in order to create new and hybrid beautiful works of art.

“Canada has its own beautiful colours as well,” she says.

She notes how artwork from Day of the Dead and Halloween decorations have colour schemes that can overlap with each other. Typically, black, orange and purple are the most common colours, which are seen in both of these holidays. Orange represents autumn time and the last harvest of the season, but it is also used to decorate the deceased loved ones’ graves with orange marigold petals during the Day of the Dead. Black is used to depict winter’s innate darker weather as well as an association with an end, death or mysticism. Purple is often associated with mysticism and spirituality.

“As Mexicans, we love everything and anything mystical,” says Carolina.

The art of depicting skulls and skeletons in a positive way, such as painting a smile on a skull’s face, rather than portraying them as something that should be feared or hidden away, is something that, she believes, is a very positive aspect of and contribution from this Mexican holiday. Carolina also states the holiday’s vibrancy in colour use and its ability to change people’s perspective on how to have a more positive approach towards a topic which is usually of a somber nature, is something to be cherished and acknowledged. She loves the fact that the Day of the Dead holiday allows people to use and create art in an optimistic way in relation to the inescapable reality of having to leave this world at some point in time. By being involved in the holiday’s decoration and art making, it helps to perpetuate a joyous approach to remembering and honoring those who have passed on, she says.

Over time, Mexico’s Day of the Dead popularity has grown worldwide to the point where the holiday’s influences can be seen in merchandise and decorations, even throughout the entire year, instead of exclusively during the holiday season.

“It makes me proud to see that such inspiration and art has spread and that it came from Mexico!” Carolina says. “ I love knowing that people from other countries can also see skull decorations without a negative connotation attached to them…and to also be able to paint your face as a Catrina skull, now that is art”.

It is this spread of Mexico’s festive holiday to so many parts of the world that allows people to fully immerse themselves in Mexican culture regardless of where they are.

Carolina’s pride in being part of a culture and holiday which transcends fear and brings so much life and colour is undeniable.

“With the spread of information, the next generations will have much more knowledge and connection to the Day of the Dead as time goes on. and that makes me very happy,” she says. “I believe that there might be a point in time where different cultures and their holidays will fuse with each other. Multiculturalism will allow different cultures to adapt and adopt each other’s holidays and their art. Such as creating an Irish sugar skull. Just like we should cry about the inevitability of death, we should also learn to accept, remember and celebrate those who have lived and gone.”

By: Alexandra Vergara


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