Life and death – the twin aspects of a universe in equilibrium – have been prominent features of Mexican life and art since ancient times. This brightly painted depiction of a matador, bull, and audience – all skeletons – at the National Museum of Popular Art in Mexico City caught my eye on a recent visit.
Skeleton art – known as Calaveras, or skulls – was popularized in the 19th century by artist José Guadalupe Posada from Aguascalientes. The tradition continues today and by late October the skeletons seem to outnumber the living. That’s when the living and the dead spend a few days together during the Day of the Dead celebrations; family altars featuring sugar skulls, pierced paper skeletons, and figurines abound. In Mexico’s contemporary hybrid Indigenous/Catholic view of the afterlife, if you went to a bullfight while you were alive you don’t stop going just because you’re dead. It’s seeing the skeletons going about their business – marrying, studying, partying, bullfighting – that gives Calavera part of its whimsical quality.
The beautifully renovated National Museum of Popular Art in Mexico City is located a few blocks south of the Alameda in the Centro Historico.