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Here Comes La Calaca!

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

La Calaca (the skull) is a festival that emerged as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations three years ago. This year it returns more alive than ever. The festival will present a seven-meter-high “Death Pyramid” as well as a tribute to Mexican comedian Cantinflas. The festival will also include the special participation of Spencer Tunick with a collective photo shoot in the historic center. Finally, since we are all calacas, there will be two fiestas entitled “Elegant Death” to ironically celebrate life.

La Calaca is a festival of participatory art that incorporates alternative events to those that already exist in the city in celebration of the Día de los Muertos. The new festival emerged after a trip Klaudia Óliver (its producer) took across the world. She realized that the skull is a global icon of Mexico. Also, the event emerged with the idea of celebrating not death, but life, after criminal organizations had created a situation

of fear in Mexico. But what makes the Calaca Festival different this year from other years? Oliver assures that it is because of the artists, the characters, and the attendees who are involved and enjoy the party. All the concerts, art exhibits, workshops, and parades are free and open to the general public; they are financed by social activists and private institutions.

Death exposed to nudity

Óliver told Atención that all the artists who have supported the festival since the very beginning want to come back with new projects. One of them, New York photographer Spencer Tunick, will make a collective photo of 100 nude women in the historic center with death as the main theme, using thousands of marigolds. Currently there is an open call for those interested in appearing in a Tunick image. The registration form, as well as the requirements, is published on The location of the photo shoot will be in the historic center on Thursday, October 30, from 6-9am, but it will not be open to the general public.

The Death Pyramid is a structure that will measure seven meters in height and at least 10 meters in length. It will be composed of niches made of brass that will be set up as offerings for Mexicans and foreigners who have passed away. Currently, there is an open call for all those interested in decorating one of the niches that will be part of this first project. Klaudia Óliver remarked that inside the pyramid, there will be a space for all those who want to meditate, write, or just leave a message. The pyramid will be situated at Parque Juárez and will be blessed during an indigenous ceremony on Thursday, October 30, at 6pm in a public event.

The structure will be designed by Tomás Burkey. It will also represent the spirit of the festival, contemporary art, and respect for the loved ones. All those interested in decorating a

niche must consult the requirements published on the official webpage. Some of them are the use of objects representative of those who have passed away, suchh as candles, favorite beverages, flowers, pieces of art, even clothing. The participants do not necessarily need to be artists because the main goal is to create a united community and pay homage to the dead in a creative way. Since the festival is brought into being thanks to donations, locals (people living in San Miguel) interested in decorating a niche must donate 1,500 pesos, and people coming from other cities or countries, 2,500 pesos.

The Great Skeleton and the sonic butterfly

“Death is the most beautiful thing in the world, like a flamenco dancer, dark, with wild hair, and aggressive. I hung out with Death at the cantinas. When I used to drink, I would ask her, ‘Do you want to take me away or not, pelona?’ She is a good friend of mine. One day, she told me, ‘One night on the stage I am going to ask you for an autograph, and you will sign it with your life,’” said Chavela Vargas in a video on YouTube before singing “Cruz de Olvido.” Chavela Vargas was a Costa Rican singer who lived in Mexico most of her life. She was well known for her voice and songs. Last year the festival paid homage to this Mexican icon who passed away in August 2012.

This year, the tribute will be to Mario Moreno Cantinflas (1911-1993), a popular and beloved Mexican comedian; his character Cantinflas was a wanderer with a confusing use of language. Cantinflas will be reincarnated in a local actor who will imitate some of the actor’s most popular speeches. The event will take place at the Jardín Principal on Friday, October 31, at 9:45pm.

According to Óliver, there is a myth in town stating that when the butterflies start arriving in the city—in October—that is a sign to let us know our loved ones are coming back from the afterworld, traveling on butterfly wings and carrying in their flight millions of souls. This year, the butterfly will be a special guest.

The earth harp is the biggest stringed instrument. The strings are more than 40 meters long, and their vibrations are used for healing and for practicing yoga. In 2012, Andrea Brooks, who plays the instrument, gave a performance in San Miguel. After hearing the story of the butterflies and their relation to death, she had the idea of evolving the instrument. It now has butterfly wings and its name has been changed to “The Sonic Butterfly.” Brooks will perform in the Jardín after the Cantinflas’ tribute from 10-11pm.

Elegant Death

La Calaca will include two “Elegant Death”  fiestas, open to the general public. One is “parties for those who are alive,” which in previous years has been attended by catrines and catrinas from this city and other countries. Those characters (with different professions, ideas, clothing, and even social status) gather in one place, and for a night, just as the Catrina’s creator, José Guadalupe Posadas once said, “forget everything and just have fun, enjoying life,” remembering that in the end all of them will get to the same place, if not to heaven to the cemetery, for sure.” The first fiesta will take place at Nena Hotel on Nemesio Diez on Friday, October 31, from 9pm-3am. Although the festival is not against Halloween, the organizers are requiring all those in attendance to dress as catrinas and catrines to reinforce the Mexican traditions.

The second fiesta will be held at Centro Cultural Allende on Saturday, November 1. It is called Xantolo—the place where the dead live. There will be art exhibitions, electronic music, and lots of life. Tickets for both celebrations are available online.

The producer of La Calaca has made it clear that this is an inclusive festival where everybody—visitors and residents—can get involved and be part of the event.

Check the whole program in Qué Pasa.
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