Travelling through Mexico in early November and getting caught up in a street festival during the day of the dead – el Dia de los Muertos – is an unforgettable experience. The relationship between Mexico and death is unique – as is the Mexican relationship with color.
The energy of color is something we viscerally perceive, and Mexico is a place that thrives in a rich and dynamic color palette. Even after the Spanish conquests centuries ago, many of the indigenous peoples patterning and bold colors endure today – a visit to most Mexican cemeteries certainly validates that and draws from that vibrant spectrum.
Something else Mexico is well known for is handcraft and folk art – highly personal items made by hand with various materials and intended for utilitarian and decorative purposes. These items referred to as ‘artesania’ have a complex history and are valued as part of the country’s national identity. It’s pretty obvious to me that much of the current cemetery culture in Mexico follows a direction derived from a folk art sensibility.
Most of us value what speaks to us, and I can tell you that a lot of what I’ve seen in Mexican cemeteries speaks in a unique vocabulary of its own even if the rough and untutored production may diminish some people’s opinion of it. I feel the same for lot of folk art that is vanishing with time as life becomes more mechanical and machine oriented. This passage from W.B. Yeats’ 1902 classic “The Celtic Twilight” sums it up nicely: “Folk art is, indeed, the oldest of aristocracies of thought, and because it refuses what is passing and trivial, the merely clever and pretty, as certainly as the vulgar and insincere, and because it has gathered into itself the simplest and most unforgettable thoughts of the generations, it is the soil where all great art is rooted.”