Showing posts with label Dia de Muertos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dia de Muertos. Show all posts

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Remembering Deceased Loved Ones

Each year, Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead arrives to great fanfare in Oaxaca, Mexico. The holiday has indigenous roots and combines elements of pre-Hispanic beliefs with Catholicism, and is dedicated to honoring and remembering deceased loved ones.

Dia de Muertos occurs at the end of October and first 2 days of November. It is a a vibrant and deeply meaningful celebration⏤a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated throughout the country, particularly in the region of Oaxaca. 

At this time, families create elaborate altars, known as "ofrendas," in their homes, adorned with marigold flowers, candles, photographs of the departed, and their favorite foods and drinks. These ofrendas are believed to help guide the spirits of the deceased back to the world of the living for a brief reunion with their families.
People also visit cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Families gather to share stories and memories, and there is often music, dancing, and other festivities. The atmosphere is one of both reverence and joy, as it is believed that during Dia de Muertos, the boundary between the living and the dead is temporarily lifted, allowing for a special connection with those who have passed away.

In essence, Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico, is a celebration of life and death, a time for families to come together, honor their ancestors, and celebrate the continuity of life beyond death. It's a unique blend of indigenous traditions and Catholicism, creating a rich tapestry of cultural significance and remembrance.

Our ofrenda, 2022

Today during our Sunday free art session for our neighbor children, we made decorated masks from gourd shells. Everyone worked happily on the project and went away with a creation to share with family and friends.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Dia de Muertos

It is a beloved time of year in Mexico, bringing families together, and whole communities. Dia de Muertos, in English means “day of the dead.” It might sound macabre but it is not. It is when death and life meet in celebration. A time when departed souls are honored and called to return for a visit “home” to loved ones left behind. A time for happiness.

Like most of Mexico, we made an ofrenda for our home. It is an altar to honor and commemorate our relatives and friends that have passed away⏤hoping that by honoring them in this way, they will come back to us and visit. We decorate with fine cloth, offering fancy breads, flowers, artwork, photos and objects signifying the passions of those remembered.

Oaxaca, in the south central mountains of Mexico is an epicenter for Dia de Muertos during the special days between October 31  -  November 2 when it is celebrated. Hotels are all booked solid well in advance as tourists from all over the world descend upon the city. This year, Amy and I hosted a group of tourists from the USA at our home in San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, a village on the outskirts of town. They came to meet us⏤two famous artists living the authentic Mexican life. Our friendly neighbors made a traditional lunch. 

The next afternoon of November 1, we arrived in Centro and quickly found a couple just setting up to paint faces. We looked at their samples. Amy chose a style, as did I, and we both sat amidst the crowds and had our faces painted.

Each day Amy and I went to town to wander among the crowds and relish the atmosphere. I am a photographer as well as painter, so took plenty of photos. Everywhere we turned the fantastic sights of people with face paint and sometimes elaborate costumes dazzled us. Street performers and musicians entertained. A sense of excitement and happiness abounded. Especially starting around 4 PM and going into the night.

Yesterday, November 5, Amy and I were driving by our local cemetery in the late afternoon. We stopped to take a look. Nobody was there but a caretaker. The place was awash in flowers that covered all the gravesites. The experience took my breath away. I felt privileged to come in behind all the worshipers who had brought gifts of love for their departed loved ones, then sat and communed with them. 
It is what Dia de Muertos is all about.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Dance of Death

Over the years I have come to realize my best artwork elicits strong reactions and not necessarily favorable. People have cried in front of my paintings. I have been assaulted in fury, with invectives hurled. Folks have swooned. 
Most of my career has been as a landscape painter. From the start of life I have been a nature boy. In school I often gazed out the windows to the landscape beyond, wishing to be free as a bird. I am tactile, feeling things to help me connect and understand. Thankfully the world has responded to my creative efforts and I have been able to make a living as an artist all my adult life. 

Keeping Score, oil on linen, 28 x 22 inches  c. 1996 

I struggle to make work that pushes boundaries and reaches into human psychology. A painting series called Hangups, begun in 1993 and continued for a decade were faces hanging from clothespins suspended on lines. The images originated in my subconscious. With the contortions and props, they elicited a wide range of emotions, from happiness to comic laughter, frustration, anger and repulsion. One, called Van Gogh All Hung Up, is in the permanent collection of the Foundation Van Gogh, in Arles France.

French, Middle Ages

Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, I have been working on a series of “Memento Mori” paintings. The Latin phrase literally means, "Remember that you must die." Each time I begin work on one, I touch raw feelings such as sadness or grief. Also come feelings of closure, laughter and relief. 
The famous French painter Matisse made the statement: “Art should be something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.” I say that is not all art must be.  

The biggest annual festival in Oaxaca is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is time of remembrance and celebration of souls departure from this earthly existence. Most Mexicans consider death as not just a misfortune but also an ultimate state of liberation. Many positive images associated with the skeleton can be found in Mexican culture.

Skeletons in art have a long history. Some of the most memorable works in my mind are by Albrecht Durer, Pieter Breughel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch⏤famous artists from medieval times. In the Middle Ages the skeleton started to be used artistically as a personification of Death, i.e. in Dance of Death artworks, and as a symbolic element in other 'macabre' artistic themes with memento mori content, such as the Triumph of Death.

Detail from Pieter Breughel the Elder, Triumph of Death, 1562

In these contemporary times, the dance of death continues with different plagues: world wide pandemics, global warming and the ensuing natural calamities, wars, famines . . . you get the picture.  Death does not care, it comes to all that live. The skeleton represents spirit released of the body; a medium that connects life and death, conscious and unconscious. 

Monday, September 05, 2022

Where is Your Blog?

The first of my 720 blog posts was written and uploaded 16 years ago: Friday, September 29. 2006. The average novel contains about 80,000 words. There are 587,287 words in Tolstoy’s great novel, War and Peace.  I am reading it now, for the second time. (I first read it when I was eighteen years old.) 

My Fairytale Life
taken together as a whole, is my War and Peace.

The last time I posted was June 12, three months ago. Usually I post every weekend. I have been amiss.  Especially since it has not been for lack of experiences to share. My cousin in Dallas, Texas, a retired surgeon, asks, "Where is your blog?"

When Amy and I returned from a sojourn to Europe in May and June, our village celebrated its annual festival after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic. San Pedro Ixtlahuaca puts on a feast of sights and sounds, especially at night with the whirling dancers with fireworks strapped to their bodies.

Amy's two paintings, and Steven's "Rooster Serenade."

Within a month we set out again for three weeks, this time driving from Oaxaca to Santa Fe New Mexico, USA, 1720 miles and four days. Amy also flew to Nebraska and did a workshop during that time. We brought three paintings with us and delivered them to collectors in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  The drive from southern Mexico into the USA is long and arduous, though entertaining too. Those days could be chapters in a book not written about here. 
Our storage unit in Santa Fe is where we have art stored. We sold about ten pieces during our visit.

We returned in time for the finale of Guelaguetza at the end of July. The Guelaguetza, or Los lunes del cerro, is an annual indigenous cultural event that takes place in the city of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca, and nearby villages. The celebration features traditional costumed dancing by gender-separated groups. The parade we witnessed through the streets of downtown was jubilant, stirring, colorful, full of music, with costume and dance and totally pleasing to the crowds lining the avenues.

Taking advantage of the rainy season we planted some big trees around our property. Everyday I begin work after breakfast by cutting brush and waist high grass, surveying our precious trees and plants for evidence of insect damage or blight and tending to needs of our cultured “plantas.” The big issue now is grasshoppers by the millions. They eat all the time! I have to spray poison. Today when I went out to a corner of the property I seldom visit, a mature nopal cactus had toppled down because of the weight of its paddles. If I had been more perceptive, I would have trimmed it.

Our neighbor children have come on Sundays for free art projects that we sponsor. Our hearts are becoming intertwined. 

The next big event is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead at the beginning of November. It is fabulous and this year Amy and I are going to go in costume with faces painted.

There is plenty to write about each week.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Change of Season

Last weekend’s Dia de Muertos celebrations burst with color, sight and sounds. In downtown Oaxaca, marching bands, street performers, face painting and people dressed in "muertos" costumes injected excitement everywhere. The festivities were for about four days. 

Some fields around our home in the little village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca came alive with color as crops of marigolds and cockscomb, timed for Dia de Muertos arrived in full bloom on schedule. Then with a rush, people swept in and bought all the flowers, taking them home for ofrenda altars, to decorate entries, setting them at the graves of loved ones or decorating businesses. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Our Ofrenda

“ The most acceptable offering to God Himself comes from a grateful and joyful heart. " - William Shakespeare 

 As the saying goes, when a loved ones passes away they are, “Gone from our sight, but never from our hearts.” Here in Mexico, where Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a national holiday, it is occasion to remember our departed loved ones in a spectacular way. 
Yesterday, when Amy and I were driving into town we passed fields of flowers bustling with activity. People were cutting and loading armfuls of marigolds and cockscomb into pickup trucks, cars, onto donkeys or simply carrying loads on their back. A palpable sense of excitement is in the air. The smells and colors are stimulating both to the senses and soul.

Everyone it seems, builds an “ofrenda” or shrine to the departed in their home. Also entries to homes and businesses are decorated with flowers. 
Amy and I have built our own ofrenda near our front door in our entry hall. I must say it feels good. When I am near the ofrenda I feel warmth. 

The ofrenda is a portal, bridging worlds. That is its purpose, to reach into another place and open doors of perception. Commemorating spirits gone into the next world, we build our altars of flowers along with meaningful objects and reminders⏤everything to honor souls and life.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Dia de Muertos


Dia de Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” always sounded strange to me; like a zombie movie or something. In English, the word ”dead” has a lifeless connotation. “Day of the Ancestors” is really the meaning. I like that. We honor our ancestors and want them always near us. We hope to have good relationships with our loved ones that have gone before us. So we talk with them. They pray for us and we pray for them.

Seated at our table, (for awhile).

Now that Amy and I are living in Mexico, we are adopting the celebration whole heartedly. Not just as spectators. This year we are making an ofrenda: a home altar with a collection of objects placed on a ritual display during Día de Muertos celebration. The ofrenda is presented to commemorate the souls of loved ones in the family and to welcome them to the altar setting.

Although we are going into our dry season here in Oaxaca, fields of color can be seen. Marigolds bloom to be harvested just in time for Dia De Muertos celebrations. Also Cockscomb with its brilliant crimson color. 

Detail from "Memento Mori" by Steven Boone

Covid precautions are still in place but excitement is building and celebrations will occur. After all, Dia De Muertos is a Mexican national holiday.

Detail from a painting in progress by Amy Cordova Boone

Amy is working on finishing an ofrenda painting. I just finished “Memento Mori,” a painting with the theme of the inevitability of death.

Stay tuned for next posts . . . 

More about Dia De Muertos 

More about Ofrendas

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Oaxaca and Day of the Dead

Now that Amy and I are in Mexico, we give ourselves to surprise and the unexpected. Being in Oaxaca during the celebration of Dia de Muertos, (Day of the Dead,) takes our experience to another level altogether.

We are situated in an apartment just two blocks from the town center. Our comfortable room is in a complex belonging to an elderly Mexican woman, Maria, who shares her extra space.  Amy is conversational in Spanish.

We have been in Oaxaca four days but it feels like we are living lifetimes. Mornings start out quiet and relaxed with barely traffic, then as the day progresses everything intensifies. By evening lines of cars move slowly on the avenues that are open and people flood streets in the center that are closed to traffic. Families are in costume and many people parade with painted faces. Clusters of musical groups abound, often accompanied by costumed dancers. I love the strong brass sections that always have tuba players that huff and puff along with the drummers belting out percussion.

Naomi, along with Maria's family
The multi-day Dia de Muertos holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember those loved ones who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. It is common to see “ofrendas”, altars decorated with marigold flowers and items like food that are made as gifts to the deceased. Supposedly the dead can follow the pungent scent of the marigolds and arrive home. Copal incense is burned too. Maria set up an altar in her home and when she learned that Amy and I were going to make a little altar for Naomi, my daughter, she told us to include Naomi’s picture with those of her family.

The first night of the holiday, Amy and I hired a taxi and went to Xoxo (pronounced ho-ho) cemetery, an old, intimate resting place for the dead that is known by locals as the best place to have the real experience. We arrived at dusk and stayed until after nightfall. Families brought huge bundles of flowers and marched to the graves of their loved ones to place the blooms and light candles. We were careful at all times not to step on graves. We saw a big foreign man sitting on tombs while taking pictures and knew he did not know how to respect the place. I could hear Amy praying in Spanish as we went. I took photos of candles and tombs. Early in the evening we came upon a small group of locals sitting by the grave of a loved one. An old woman caught my eye and I asked to take her picture. She said something and nodded. Afterward Amy told me she had agreed and said, “Yes, because I will fly away very soon.”

The next night we painted our faces in our room and found a cab to drive us to another cemetery, called Panteon Generale. It is bigger, but to our chagrin, after walking down a closed street with festive booths on each side we found the gates had closed at 6:30 PM. Oh well, that is how THE DREAM is sometimes. So we mingled with families having fun at a mini-carnival. At various times proud parents asked to photograph their children with us.

Isais Jimenez and Amy Cordova

Events continue to unfold and yesterday a wonderful wood carver whose father is very famous drove with his wife from a nearby village to retrieve us and take us home. Isais is the son of artist Manuel Jimenez Ramirez (December 9, 1919 – March 4, 2005) who is a legend in southern Mexico. He and his family carry on the tradition begun by the father of painted wood carvings that are magical (alebrijes). Amy illustrated a book about Manuel, called Dream Carver. It is about a young boy who has visions to make wooden animals. He wants them wild and wonderful, different than the traditional carvings of his people. The animals he sees in his dreams are ones that he carves and decorates. The text is written by Amy’s friend, Diana Cohn.
Isais, with the carving he gave us.

To our surprise Isais has made a museum to his father and on the walls surrounding the museum are huge mural copies of Amy’s illustrations. We were treated very warmly and talked with Isais about how to revive the book, which is out of print. He said he is asked every day for copies. As our time with Isais concluded he took us into the showroom and with a wave told us to choose any painted wood carving we wanted. Amy and I both gasped because the artwork is very valuable—and masterpieces. Isais would not let us offer any money. We chose a sculpture and Isais had his son wrap it, then we got back in his Chevy Suburban and drove the forty five minutes back into town.

Before we left he said, “You are both part of our family now.”