For countless generations the indigenous people of what is now the nation of Mexico have celebrated Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The exhuberant celebration of life and death occurs annually during the first two days of November. Celebrants create ofrendas — altars in private homes or cemeteries featuring offerings, food, family photographs, and candles to invite the souls of the dead back to the material world, as a life-affirming rejection of the notion of the finality of death.
This year, visitors to New York City’s famed Rockefeller Center can see a fabulous exhibtion of Día de los Muertos related Mexican folk art. Works by Atelier Jacobo and María Angeles in Oaxaca and by Menchaca Studio, a Mexico City-based organization specializing in Huichol art and crafts, will be on display. Among the colorful works are two towering alebrijes, vibrantly-colored sculptures of animals and mythical creatures meant to serve as spiritual guides: an 11-foot dragon and a 13.5-foot feathered jaguar, both rendered in fiberglass.
At the entrance to the world famous 30 Rockefeller Plaza are two catrinas, skeleton figures representing the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl, by Menchaca Studio. The elegant skulls donning floral hats are perhaps the most recognizable symbols of Day of the Dead, inspiring the distinctive make-up, elaborate costumes, and even the pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”) found on many altars during the festivities.