One of the most recognized characters associated with Dia de los Muertos is La Catrina. With recent films like The Book of Life and Coco garnering critical acclaim and tremendous success at the box office, we see the popularity of Dia de los Muertos growing amongst people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds. At Dia de los Muertos festivities throughout the Americas, we see more and more women, young and old, wearing fancy gowns and hats, and painting their faces to look like calaveras de azúcar, or sugar skulls. La Catrina has become the preeminent symbol of the afterlife and is la grand dame of all Dia de los Muertos festivities. But who is La Catrina?
The iconic figure was first imagined by Mexican artist and printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada. First appearing around 1910, La Calavera Catrina depicts a female skeleton adorning a fancy European style hat. Posada’s creation was a satirical commentary on native Mexican women, who, in Posada’s opinion, were neglecting and even willfully choosing to forget their Mexican heritage in pursuit of a wealthy, upper-class, European lives. Clearly a political statement at the time, La Calavera Catrina and the leaflet she first appeared on has evolved into a symbol of lasting cultural significance, especially as related to Dia de los Muertos.
La Catrina has grown to be much more than just a caricature of Mexican women denying their indigenous ancestry. Instead, she, and her male counterpart El Catrin, are now considered the faces of death in Mexico and in other parts of the world where Dia de los Muertos is celebrated.
Over time this imagery has evolved far beyond Posada’s sketch to include costuming and parading, fine art (see Diego Rivera’s 1924 painting, Day of the Dead, or 1948’s Sunday Evening’s Dream), and especially folk art. Placed on altars and sold at festivals and events, La Catrina and other skeleton figures made of wood, paper, clay, and even cornhusks are depicted acting out any number of activities. Whether dancing, going out on the town, or enjoying a glass of wine, the figures remind us that life is indeed a part of death, something we will all experience, and is most certainly nothing to be feared. Unfortunately, Dia de los Muertos is often confused with Halloween, horror, and haunts. La Catrina and her skeletal friends remind us that it is instead a holiday of sacred remembrance and festive celebration.
Join the Day of Dead Celebration at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center on Saturday, October 27th from 11am-6pm!