TO Dia de los Muertos celebrations in much of Latin America, la calavera de azucar, or a “sugar skull”, is a common spectacle. Face masks are traditionally molded from sugar and decorated with glitter, feathers and anything else for the celebrations.
As the celebration has grown in popularity, these sugar skulls have been translated onto face paint, providing the perfect outfit for the occasion. The Catholic faith shared in Latin America brings a religious influence that is often displayed in face painting, which is associated with both traditional Aztec influences and European symbolism. The day itself was moved by Pope Gregory III to November 1 to suppress pagan religious holidays.
The image of a calavera most often associated with Dia de los Muertos now it’s that of La Calavera Catrina, a skeletal portrait of a lady of high society. The image is believed to be taken from a 1910 sketch by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada and was originally intended to be a satire of the elitist upper classes of the early 20th century; the message being that we are all equal in death.
Explore NYPL’s José Guadalupe Posada Collection through “Las meras meras calaveras de Posada” or “The Skeletal Caricatures of Posada,” a new installation celebrating the digitization of the library’s entire Posada collection. https://t.co/WcLKQKHDiP
– New York Public Library (@nypl) 25 October 2021
Why do people paint their faces?
Although this is a distinctly morbid tradition, the the use of skulls is not a pessimistic representation. On the contrary, the fixation with death comes from the Aztec tradition, in which the transition from life to death was a positive estrangement from the illusion of Earth.
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, unfolds in an explosion of color and joy demonstrating love and respect for lost loved ones https://t.co/spMWjAOhxZ
– National Geographic (@NatGeo) November 1, 2021
The festival is therefore a celebration of loved ones who have passed away, not an act of sadness. It’s not related to Halloween, and it’s less about fear than respect.