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Death Wants to Party

By Jesús Aguado

The lyric of a popular song observes that “there comes Death brandishing her scythe,” taking with her everybody standing in her path. The lyric makes clear what we all know: that Death “has been such a killer that she is carrying on with the laborers, those married as well as those single. Death carries on indiscriminately with Christians in very important posts and finishes by encouraging listeners to drink cerveza before she comes after us.”

And it is true that we all have to end up in the cemetery, but—before that day, let´s pretend to be her: La huesuda, La Calaca, La Pelona, La Catrina, La Muerte, or whatever else they call her in México—to laugh at her before her last stop, taking us to the other world. Of course, we can make fun of her with culture and art as we do at the La Calaca Festival, which will start on Friday, October 23, and will go until Monday, November 2, the day when those who have passed on come out of their graves to eat, dance, drink, and enjoy those things they left behind.

Origins of Day of the Dead

Klaudia Óliver, president of the Festival, noted that this year the festival will open with a large format photo exhibit, an allegory to Day of the Dead by Jesús Alexandre. The images will be exhibited all day long at the Jardín Principal from Friday, October 23, through Sunday, October 25. Alexandre, a photographer from Michoacán, told Atención he was searching for the origins of his grandfather, Atanasio, and began to deeply explore the past and present of the Purépecha culture. That was how he came to put together this collection of 22 photos that talk about life and death in Michoacán, one of the most important states for celebration of this important day in Mexico.

The images on display include Resurrección (Resurrection), through which visitors will get a close glance at this thousand-year-old ball game that was lost for almost three thousand years in Michoacán state and later recovered by a woman. Sin Descendencia (Without Descendants) is photography. According to Jesús Alexandre, this photo was inspired by an artisan—he is also in the picture—who had children, but all of them decided to follow different paths from arts and crafts. In the image, the artisan is working on one of his pieces, accompanied by his granddaughter, who is disguised as a calaca. The title came about because after the artisan’s death, his technique will be lost. Esto es Vida (This is life) depicts the integration that the family should have. In the image is a happy family, but if the attendees look closer, they will realize that, ironically, the members of the family are dead.

The Children of Candy

Juárez Park will be one of the venues for the Festival, where there will be a bazaar with the Day of the Dead theme. The Festival will also feature a program especially designed and prepared for children by teacher Guadalupe Trejo, a Mexican who loves the culture and has been a resident in San Miguel for 20 years. La Calaca Festival has taken very seriously the idea that the arrival of the Monarch butterflies also marks the arrival of the dead souls. On Friday, October 30, at 4pm there will be a storyteller who will retell the legend while the members of La Calaca give butterfly wings to the children. After the storyteller, the children will go in a procession toward Juárez Park, waving their wings, to where the Pyramid of Dead will be inaugurated with a pre-Hispanic ceremony.

The Pyramid of Dead, by Tomás Burkey, is a structure made up of brass niches, decorated by artists and owners of businesses who want to pay homage to their loved ones and have them close although they remain just in their memories.

On Saturday, October 31; Sunday, November 1; and Monday, November 2, from 11am-2pm, there will be simultaneous workshops for children, all of them targeted to instill the idea of celebrating our culture and our roots as they are presented during Day of the Dead. During one of the workshops, the sweetest one, traditionalists will teach children how to decorate the calaveras, with colors, names, ornaments and more. At the end they will be free to take their little skulls home with them. Children will teach other children how to paint calaveritas and other people from La Huerta will demonstrate how to make ornaments of the season with recycled materials. The workshops are free.

Trejo was able to bring the Ara puppet group from Comonfort. Part of the integral program for children, they will present the play El Paseo de la Calaca (The Walk of la Calaca). It is an explanation of why it is important to celebrate and love Mexican culture and understand that this Festival is different from celebrations brought to Mexico by people from other countries.

Party for the Dead

This festival’s parties are the most coveted in the city, and there will be three this year. The first will take place on Friday, October 30, at Mesones 58 from 9pm “until dusk.” For this party the attendants can wear any adornment or disguise related to the dead. Free entrance.

The second party is called “Xantolo” (the place where the dead live) and will be held at Centro Cultural Allende on Ancha de San Antonio from 9pm “until you drop.” At this party, said Oliver, there will be music from local, national, and international DJ’s, including Feathered Sun, as well as bands, making it an enjoyable mix of recorded and live music. During the party there will be performances, art, surprises, and the iconic giant skull on which tri-dimensional images are projected. Tickets, 500 pesos (including three drinks).

For “the elegant dead” event, attendees should dress up as catrines or catrinas although it is not necessary. It will take place at La Casona on Sunday, November 1, at 9pm. Tickets, 500 pesos, including three drinks.

Klaudia Oliver said earlier that the idea of La Calaca Festival emerged from current conditions of fear in the country. “This year I traveled a lot, and in all the countries I visited, skulls are a reference to Mexico or to the Day of the Dead. For that reason, I believed that it was time to celebrate our culture and traditions through this event. La Calaca’ is a festival of participative art. We are trying to unite the existing events and also bring new attractions and integrate them into a program,” commented Oliver.

In past years, photographer Spencer Tunick has participated in the festival. This year, said Oliver, there are no plans with him, but the group is working on something for 2016. Photos of nude women that he took last year on the streets of the Historic Center are exhibited at Sollano 16.


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