Day of the Dead/Ofrenda Art

My mother was a creative and passionate Mexican woman and an artist in her own right.  I learned papier-mache as a young child from watching her make elaborate pinatas for the seemingly perpetual birthday celebrations for me and my seven siblings.  It wasn’t until many years later as a grown woman when I began to fully appreciate her many talents.

These images are some of my own papier-mache skulls which, in the spirit of my mother, I lovingly create and paint for my ofrendas.  (I explain the ofrenda and the significance of the Day of the Dead tradition below the images).  Unfortunately, I have not documented the countless ofrendas I have created, but fortunately I do have images below of the ofrenda I installed in tribute to my mother, Angela Boyle-Cardenas-Queveda-Herbeck.

The painting on the wall is my mother’s work.

The Day of the Dead celebration occurs every November 1st (All Saint’s Day), and 2nd (All Soul’s Day), and has been celebrated in Mexico and other Latin American countries for centuries.  It is a Catholic ritual intertwined with folk culture, whereby families and friends honor and celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones.  The tradition stems from the colorful rituals of the ancient indigenous peoples of Mexico who believed that the souls of the dead returned each year to commune with the living.  In most Latin American countries, and especially in Mexico, death is celebrated.  There is nothing mournful about Dia de los Muertos; in fact, the occasion can be festive and colorful.

When the Spaniards came to the Americas they tried to eradicate this annual ritual, as part of their mission to convert the natives to Christianity.  They viewed death as the end of life, and something to fear; whereas the natives viewed it as the continuation of life, and something to embrace.  The natives held on to their tradition; however, the dates were fixed by the Spaniards to coincide with All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day.  After the Spanish Conquest, the Day of the Dead celebration evolved into a hybrid of ancient indigenous beliefs and Catholic ritual.

A key component of the tradition is the ofrenda, in the form of an elaborate table, or altar with offerings to the deceased.  The ofrenda is not an altar of devotion; rather, it is an altar of remembrance.  Flowers and candles are placed at gravesites and on the ofrenda in the belief that the aromas and the light will guide the spirits on the journey from the other side.

Among the other items that are typically placed on or around the ofrenda are papel picado (pierced tissue paper); calaveras (skeletons); pan de muerto (bread of the dead); sugar skulls; fruit; candy; incense; photos; the deceased’s favorite food or drink, as well as objects of Catholicism, such as rosaries and the Crucifix.

Dia de los Muertos is an opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon our heritage, our ancestors and the meaning and purpose of our own existence.


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