all photos Eva Gray/Catalyst
Friday night brought an awakening of the spirits, but not the haunted kind.
El Dia de los Muertos, as it is known in Mexico, is rooted in ancient Aztec and Spanish Catholic beliefs. Rather than warding off the dead, the spirits of deceased loved ones are welcomed back to Earth over two days, Nov. 1, El Dia de los Santos or All Saints Day, and Nov. 2, El Dia de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead or All Souls Day.
Bradenton’s Village of the Arts put on its sixth annual Festival of the Skeletons on Friday, Nov. 4.
Zoe Von Avercamp, owner of Divine Excess Folk Art, said that she and her husband have been collectors of Mexican folk art for years. After visiting Mexico for the celebration, she brought it back to Bradenton. “I think it’s a very beautiful Mexican holiday, it is totally different than our American Halloween – it’s really a celebration of life,” Von Avercamp said.
In Mexico, it is believed that the dead find it disrespectful to be greeted by grieving at the altar. The creation of altars is meant to bring back the spirits of loved ones. Offerings typically include the favorite toy, food, candy, flower or clothing of the deceased.
“It’s to honor and remember your loved ones that passed on – your parents, your grandparents, your friends, even pets, and you remember them, those days by telling stories about them, putting out photographs that you love and remember,” Von Avercamp said. “I think people here in this country could learn a lot more and get a lot more out of [the Day of the Dead] if we learned how to celebrate this along with or separate from our Halloween.”
30 art galleries and three local restaurants in the Village of the Arts helped put on the festivities. Many artists displayed altars to relatives, and lights and luminaries lit the sidewalks.
While the crowd turned out in only limited droves of families, couples and art lovers alike, the displays and altars offered beautiful local craftsmanship and artistry. While some may argue that this sort of festivity in an artist community in Bradenton could be deemed “cultural appropriation,” the intention was to adapt the traditions to the context of Village.
Celebrations typically host the famous Skeleton of La Catrina, who was flanked a skeleton escort. Depicted by early 20th century artist José Guadalupe Posada, La Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Skull), represents an “elegant” skeleton of an upper-class, Victorian era woman. This Catrina, along with her escort, floated in silence among the visitors.