Sunday, November 2, 2008

Las catrinas

One of the most prevalent symbols of the holiday Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is the skull, or calavera. Although an image associated with death, it's not intended to be gruesome or scarey. The skull and skeleton imagery are to remind us that death comes to us all, and helps us remember our loved ones who have departed.

Sugar is molded into the shape of skulls, and decorated with colored icing. These calaveras de azucar are given as gifts and left on altars as offerings to the departed spirits.

Skeleton images, known as calacas, depict the figures of the dead, and for Dia de Los Muertos, clever artists create toys, figurines, cartoons and images showing skeletons carrying out everyday activities the dead carried out in life. If your lost loved-one was a baker, you might have a figure of a skeleton sliding loaves into an oven. If your departed was a cowboy, you might have a skeletal cowboy astride a skeletal horse. Even skeletal cats and dogs are found in holiday decorations.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, illustrator and engraver Juan Guadelupe Posada used the image of skeletons in political cartoons and spoofs to make fun of figures of authorities, the church, and the upper class. His snooty, fancily dressed calacas became known as Catrins (male) and Catrinas (female) - catrin being a slang word that means "dandy."

Eventually, the name became associated with the clever figurines artists make for Day of the Dead. Like the cartoons that inspired them, many Catrinas are satirical or funny, sometimes showing the departed behaving badly.

You may see skeletal priests, drunks, punk rockers, skateboarders and lawyers, being poked by devils holding pitchforks. Other figures mock famous personalities. Elvis. Marilyn Monroe, her white skirt blown up.

Here is a tiny Catrina I was given a couple years ago. She's a sun-bather with her boom-box and her tropical drink, lounging beneath her beach umbrella. Ah, vanity - even vanity cannot escape death.

Here's a Catrina figurine I got this year. She's wearing a skimpy outfit, smoking a ciggie, and her hair is a rat's nest.

Does she remind you of someone?

1 comment:

JCK said...

Thanks for sharing all of this, G. Well...except for that LAST photo! LOL.