The famous skinny female skeleton you see in galleries and along streets all around Mexico are fondly referred to as LA CATRINA. This Catrina is bright and glittery, complete with her wide brimmed glittery hat. There is definitely a sense of humor in the artwork of this sculptural series found in Anton’s Gallery. They are made sometimes for celebration of Dia de los Muertos, the holiday when it is believed that spirits of deceased loved ones return to visit with family and friends.
Often in Mexico families gather to remember and to celebrate the presence of missed loved ones. Beautiful and elaborate altars (called ofrendas) dedicated to loved ones who have died, are filled with their favorite flowers, objects and food to make them feel welcome. Family and friends gather in cemeteries to clean, decorate and visit family graves. Some hold all night vigils.
La Calavera Catrina translates into "Dapper Skeleton" or "Elegant Skull".
Legend has it that Catrina, the famous female skeleton of Mexico, was once a real person. Folklore says that La Catrina was once a living woman known for her selfishness. In life, she was a greedy rich woman who did nothing to help the poor. Catrina was often seen dressed in ornate European styles, imitating the French by wearing a lot of makeup to make her skin appear whiter.
This image now popular in ceramic and paper mache,and is actually inspired from a zinc etching by the famous Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator and lithographer, José Guadalupe Posada.
While he was alive, Posada received what amounted to just a few cents for each of his drawings. He lived a humble life and upon his death, was buried in a common grave. His artwork is now a beloved symbol of Mexico itself.
Posada began to use Mexico’s traditional Day of the Dead celebration as his theme. He would stage scenes with skeletons in working class barrios, in suburban communities and in the houses of the elite class. Riding on bicycles and garbed in the latest finery, Posada’s skeletons became metaphors for the corrupt elitist class, and La Catrina came to life. In his original 1910 etching of La Catrina, Posada describes a person who was ashamed of their Indian origins and dressed imitating the French style while wearing a lot of makeup to make their skin look whiter. This description also ties to the original name garbancera, which became a nickname given to people of indigenous ancestry who imitated European style and denied their own cultural heritage.
Catrina has come to symbolize not only El Día de los Muertos and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself, but also refer to rich people that, “Death brings this neutralizing force; everyone is equal in the end. Sometimes people have to be reminded of that.”
Skeletons from all walks of life are represented to relay the message that no matter who you are in life-rich or poor, famous or unknown-you will end up a skeleton in the end.